Posts Tagged ‘homemade’

G is for Gifts

Because yesterday was my birthday.

My kids have been asking me what I want for my birthday, because they want to give me gifts. I tell them that what I want is for them to make me something, and they reply, “Yes, but what do you really want?”

That IS what I really want! I don’t need them to go buy me stuff. I don’t need anyone to buy me more stuff (although I would not say no to a pressure canner). Nothing makes me happier than seeing them make something, and giving something of themselves to others. Like every Mom, I treasure those gifts the most.

But I know what they are thinking because I often think it, too. The things we make are not as nice as the things we buy. I worry about that. I tend to give gifts I make myself. And I worry that they are not as nice as something I could buy or that people will think it’s just because I’m cheap.

When I make a gift for someone, I think about them the entire time. I ask myself what they might like and at every step of the way when I have a choice of materials, color, technique, I ask myself what they would like most. And as the object takes shape, I often smile in anticipation of how much I think they will like it. Sure, in the end there are sometimes little imperfections, but I hope that only adds to the charm!

There are other reasons I like to make gifts, and receive hand-made gifts. I think we should all buy less stuff. There is no reason our joyful and celebratory feelings must be accompanied by the consumption of more stuff.

So, give gifts, but make them. Or give your time and thoughtfulness. We’ll all get more out of this kind of gift-giving!



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Making tortillas

We made tortillas to use in our quesadillas the other night. Once again, it’s something that is remarkably easy to make at home and is cheaper and tastier when you do. Of course it  takes a bit more time and planning than opening a package, but it’s more fun, too.


One of my helpers rolling out tortillas. Good help makes it much quicker!


They’re almost round!


The recipe is really quite simple:

Flour Tortillas

Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon garlic or onion salt. Then add 2/3 cup water and knead until smooth. Make 12 small balls and roll flat. Cook over medium high heat. 


But why do it? I mean, quesadillas are supposed to be my easy go-to fast meal when everyone is tired and hungry. Is it really just about feeding the independent, stubborn streak in me that just likes being able to do it myself? Am I just making life difficult for myself for no good reason? No and no. The tortillas we find in the store here are all imported from the USA. That’s a whole lot of food miles. And they are name brands, big corporate brands, and our corporate system is my least favorite investment! Those are the real motivating reasons.

Slowly, I am trying to wean us off of corporate and imported food. There’s the garden, of course, and locally grown fruits and veggies, but I’m talking about the dry goods and stuff we can’t grow ourselves. I find it much harder to convince my family to embrace alternatives to the pasta, tortillas, rice, etc. that we use pretty often. As expats, it can be easy to want and buy familiar American brands of food, much of which you can get here if you are willing to pay the price. I’d rather not and the food miles really put me off.

Here’s a list of some of the things we like and some alternatives we’ve either switched to or I am in the process of slowly, unnoticeably converting to (don’t tell the girls!).

  • Tea – We mostly use teas that we gather or grow, like sage, lemon balm, and mint. I am trying to add more herbs for teas, and buy fair trade tea if we want some black or green tea.
  • Maple syrup – This was hard to give up! But the cost here is crazy and it comes from so far away. So, we use homemade jam instead. Two years ago we started making jam from wild plums and I think the girls actually prefer it now. The other substitute is dandelion honey, from foraged dandelions, of course!
  • Dairy products like milk, butter, eggs, cheese  – You can buy local dairy products easily, even in the big chain stores. But we get almost all of our dairy products from a local organic dairy called Biovavrinec. I started buying at the Farmer’s Market, but this dairy also has an e-shop. Several folks from my work joined together to place an order every week to save on delivery charges and now we can get these products all winter, too.
  • Pickles – We’re not huge pickle eaters, but we (my mother-in-law, actually) canned 11 quarts last year from our own cucumbers!
  • Tortillas – we’ll make them most of the time now. It’s really quite quick.
  • Pasta – I suppose I could make this, too, but there is a vendor at the farmer’s market that makes wonderful fresh pasta. My favorites are the whole wheat tagliatelle and the spaghetti.
  • Rice – This doesn’t actually grow here, so getting local rice is not an option. And we love risotto and sushi and stir fries, so what to do? One strategy is to use other grains. With our stir fires, we often have millet, bulgur or buckwheat. We like quinoa, but that comes from even farther away. For risotto, I’ve started using barley.

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Easter chicks

We still have cold and snowy weather here (it is snowing as I write this), so instead of the bright, spring, outdoor fun of Easter egg hunts in the garden we have been stuck indoors. But if it’s not going to be bright and springy outside, why not make it bright and springy inside?

I found this cute Easter chick craft and just had to whip up a few. The girls got in on the fun and in the end we had our own brightly colored flock of spring chick cuteness!




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Worth the Wait

How was the yogurt, you’re wondering?

Very good…though the first batch had a funny consistency. The second batch was much better! We are enjoying it in smoothies and as is with some fruit on top.

Biggest question – will we ever be able to get the Czech man to eat it? Industrially produced yogurt, possibly loaded with hormones and antibiotics from the milk doesn’t gross him out, but the thought of bacteria turning fresh, organic milk into yogurt does…


And once again, it amazes how easy it is to make at home. It really requires very little effort. I made the second batch while I was making dinner one night. I had to watch it when it was heating, but most of the time needed in preparing yogurt is the cooling of the milk before you add the yogurt starter. After that, I nestle it in the cooler with the hot water bottle and sleep the rest of the time.

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Making Christmas Fun

After watching the Christmas episode of season 1 of Little House on the Prairie, which, by the way, has a year’s dose of wholesomeness packed into one 50 minute show, the girls and I decided we should make each other gifts for Christmas. I usually make gifts for people, but haven’t really for the girls and they haven’t for us. It’s something I’ve wanted to do – get away from the buying spree that usually accompanies Christmas these days and emphasize thoughtfulness and creativity. The girls were game, so we went for it.

I was surprised at how resourceful they were in choosing what gifts to make and by how much fun they had in doing it. They paged through craft books and internet sites looking for things for each family member. In the end, we made lots of things, some of which are pictured below.

Sofie made a sun glasses case for her father, a pin cushion for her Babička, a gardening vest for me, a bookmark and a book for her sister. Olivia made bath herbs and a  scissors case for me, a wallet for her sister, bowls for her Babička, a knit hat for her father. I made  coupons for Kamil (dinner out, etc), a dress for Sofie, a skirt and a book journal for Olivia, a bag for Hana. We even made a set of  coasters for friend and neighbor,  Andrea. Kamil got in on the act, too, and wrote a song with parts for each of us on our instruments.

A few of the things we made

A few of the things we made


This is something I want to continue with, but I must say, we did not start early enough! This all takes time especially when you have to keep some gifts secret from their intended recipient. I definitely didn’t count on the time I would have to help the girls with their gifts and it left very little time for me to make my own gifts. Which is why I am still working on some for folks a bit farther away!

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It’s been 3 weeks since my last post. What have I been doing ? You know, besides the usual?

[Digression: I started feeling really bad about not writing for so long.  And then I got irritated at feeling bad because this is supposed to be FUN! And mostly for me anyway, so why all the negative feelings? Then I read this and it really struck a nerve. If you blog, do read it. You’ll feel better about infrequent blogging!]

Knitting socks…this pair is for daughter #1 and

…this pair for daughter #2.

They don't look it in the photo, but they are the same size!


Making a quilt for a colleagues who just had their first baby.

Starting a few seedlings

(I know, I know…they are very leggy because I don’t use grow lights. It’s on the project list!)

Making more frames for raised beds.

Positioning before digging it in.

Ready for planting!

Chasing the cat out of the new raised beds. (See photo above – can you spot little cat tracks?)

Enjoying beautiful spring weather, celebrating the 100th birthday of Girl Scouts of America with a brisk sunrise ceremony, traveling to Warsaw to hear Jane Goodall (!) speak at a teacher’s conference, celebrating my daughter’s 10th birthday,  attending student art shows and music recitals..and NOT looking at my blog stats.






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Fastnacht Day

Shrove Tuesday is Fastnacht day where I come from. Pennsylvania Germans celebrate not with parades and costumes, but with food (of course), making donuts called fastnachts sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with honey, molasses or in our case, jam.

I always wanted to make fastnachts, but most recipes are quite complicated, requiring preparation the night before you want to make them and hours and hours of rising time. I managed to find one recipe for cruller-style fastnachts, however, that do not use yeast and can be made pretty easily.

Cutting the fastnachts.

Frying the fastnachts.

Yum!!! Served with our wild plum jam

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Part of the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge is to try worm composting. I was sure we could make a composter out of plastic bins – there are so many places to find instructions for this on the internet – but I was not so sure we could get worms.

I searched and found on-line providers, but was skeptical of mail ordering worms in winter. One of the providers, Ekodomov (Ecohome) is located nearby and I’d long wanted to visit their ecology center, so the girls and I set off on our adventure to find worms. If this didn’t work, I was ready to try hunting/fishing stores hoping they’d have the right kind of worms for sale as bait. A long shot, but I couldn’t think of anything else.

We found Ekodomov’s front gate, but it was locked. No opening hours were posted. Maybe it wouldn’t open until spring. There were signs pointing to the ecology center, but we couldn’t find it. We returned to the gate just to check and somehow daughter #2 pushed it open.  We went inside but seemed to be in someone’s back yard. I’ve lived here long enough to know

1) it’s easier to apologize than ask permission,

2) things rarely look like I would expect them to, and

3) it isn’t that unusual for two houses to share a common driveway and gate.

We went on through the garden and the next gate.  Still no sign of anything that looked like an ecology center, only homes. I even saw someone through the window, making lunch. We walked around a little but saw nothing.

I decided we should probably leave, we must be in the wrong place, and it was then that I saw the tiny little sign on the tiny little building that I at first thought was a garage. We walked up to it so see if the hours were posted and someone opened the door from inside and asked what we wanted. I kind of stuttered and smiled and he said, “You want worms, right?!”


The 3 men working there were very friendly and helpful, showing us a homemade worm composter and discussing the right kinds of bins to use. We left, promising to send photos of our finished work.

We headed triumphantly off to the hardware store to buy bins.  There was quite a selection, though all of the bins were transparent. All my internet sources say not to use transparent bins, but the guy at Ekodomov had said he’d tried it and it worked fine. So, transparent bins it is1

The girls were very excited (or perhaps just amused at their strange mother) and gleefully announced to their father that we have worms, our first farm animal! We enlisted his help in drilling holes in the bins, invited our neighbor to come watch and went to work.

Wetting shredded newspaper and putting it in as bottom layer.

Bottom layer done

Adding worms

Next a layer of compost

Another layer of shredded paper - do they REALLY eat it?!?

Finished bin in place in the entry hall.

Making dinner was especially exciting as we could feed our worms for the first time! Both girls had a turn.

Daughter #1

Daughter #2

The first thing I did this morning was peek inside – no worms in sight.

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The Hat is Done!

Not bad for a first effort…

The most important thing – the recipient LOVES it!

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Happy last night of Hanukah (last night)! We celebrated with pirogies. The girls are so good at making them by now that all I have to do is prepare the dough and filling and away they go!

Sofie mixing the dough

A few years ago I found this great recipe on a Pittsburgh, PA website. The dough is fantastic – pliable and delicious, but easy to work with and not too sticky. I modified the recipe a bit…


1-1/2 cups white flour + extra for rolling

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large egg

1/2 cup yogurt

1/4 cup butter, softened

Mix together flours and salt. Beat the egg, then add all at once to flour mixture. Add the sour cream and butter and work (Sofie does this with her bare hands) until the dough loses most of its stickiness, about 5 minutes. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate 20 minutes to 2 days.

Roll pirogie dough on floured board until 1/8″ thick. Cut circles. Place small ball of filling on each round. Fold dough over forming a semi-circle. Press edges together with tines of a fork. Wet edges if necessary.

Boil pirogies a few at a times in a large pot of water. They are done when they float to the top. This can take 5-10 minutes.

Now you have some options. You can rinse, dry and then pan fry them, or serve them as is. We do the latter, and cover them with sautéed onions and more yogurt (or sour cream).

The filling can be a variety of things- We use mashed potatoes with added sautéed onions and parsley or sautéed mushrooms, or a mixture of the two. Sometimes I add shredded cheese to the potatoes. You could also use seasoned ricotta (tvaroh) or even meat, I suppose.

Yummm….just don’t overdo. They are rich and filling, even now, 12 hours later!

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