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Sunday, April 26, 2020

An Old-Fashioned Sweet Briar Journal

Hello dear friends!  Happy last Sunday in April!  Today I thought I'd show you some of the things that we've been doing around here for the last couple of months and some garden talk, kitchen talk and all those things that this blog is known for. So here it goes!


Friday it finally warmed up enough for me to get out and do some weeding.  Ran has been tilling and planting for the past month.  Since we weren't able to buy seeds locally when we needed to get them started, we relied on what we could find, what we purchased last year and what we saved.  In the end, it probably saved us quite a bit of money because many plants that we normally buy, such as; broccoli, cauliflower, celery and leeks we started from seed. Those free sample packets the seed companies sent us with our orders really came in handy!  We used last years potatoes for seed, which is fine.  The only thing we weren't able to buy was onion sets because the vegetable market we buy them from is closed.  Ran is very particular about his onions and always hand-picks them from the bin.  It must be a good strategy because last year's  crop has lasted us until just last week.  Those were some nice onions!  Anyway, we did manage to find some onion sets in the garden decor area of a dollar store.  They've been planted and are sending out little green shoots, so hopefully they will be nice wintering onions.  BTW, I'd like to acknowledge Rhonda of If You Do Stuff, Stuff Gets Done for her very kind  offer to send me whatever I needed for my garden and also for all her support and encouragement  over the last couple weeks.  Getting to "meet"  people like Rhonda is one of the main reasons I blog, so if you haven't visited her blog yet, wander over there and say "hi"!   On another note, our governor has now allowed garden centers to reopen!  She crumbled under all the pressure, so there is an example of protesting, accomplishing something. She also opened up bike repair shops and golf courses (although you must walk the course and not ride a golf cart (?!), and I won't say anything more political here but leave you to draw your own conclusions.

The plot I was weeding is a good example of  the old proverb "a job worth doing, is worth doing well".  This plot was just put together in a slap-dash method to get some plants in the ground before the frost.  That was years ago and since then, I must have clocked hundred of hours weeding out all the purslane and binderweed and still pulling grass clumps from it to this day.  On the other hand,  the first plot I painstakingly hand dug, took the time to shake all the grass from the clumps, turned by a spade and hand tilled every square inch of, rarely needs to have much attention.  Just a quick hoeing.  So that is why I always tell novice gardeners to start small and do it it right the first time.  Your back will thank you in end!

Is it possible to love a plant?
This herb plant has been with me since I started herb gardening almost forty years ago.  Slips of it have been carried as I moved three times.  It has sired many plants that were the start of many friends' and acquaintance's gardens. It has been a loyal friend to me and I almost love it like a pet.  Last year, after a particularly brutal  winter, I thought I had lost it and was just sick about it, but I cut it almost back to the ground and gave it extra attention and it has come back bigger and better than ever.  I'm not one of those mother earth, new-agey  sort of people, but I do love this sage plant!  After all, we've weathered almost a half century together and that is more than I can say for a lot of people!


You know the old saying "make do our do without"?  Well, my home is the ultimate "make-do".  Several times we've seriously considered selling it because it is just too small.  But as always, we realize that the problem isn't that the house is too small, it's that we have too much stuff!  One of the problems has been that it is a very old house and storage is a major problem.  Everyone that has read this blog for any amount of time, knows that I can about five-hundred to six-hundred jars of food a year.  When we first moved here, I made a back bedroom into a walk-in pantry, but one winter  a storm knocked out our electricity for five very long and very cold days.  It was then that I decided that a woodstove was a must.  Sadly the only place to put it that didn't have the chimney going up through the middle of a room or in front of a window or doorway was the corner of my lovely pantry.  And heat and canned goods don't play well together so that was the end of my dream pantry.  We tried putting long shelves on the upstairs landing.  But this is a very old house, built long before indoor plumbing, central heating or building codes, and I worried about all that weight on the joists and expected the whole thing to coming crashing through the ceiling any day.  In the fall when the shelves were at full capacity, I think I could hear the poor joists groaning.  So we finally came up with our final  and I think best solution.  Our living room is square and the doorway into it is about one foot from the wall. I could never figure out how to arrange furniture because the natural pathway is right along that wall so any furniture placed along there was always getting bumped into or moved. That is when we came up with idea to make a huge cupboard along that entire wall  built to the ceiling.  It would only take a foot of floor space and that wall was pretty useless anyway.  If it was made of nice paneling and painted, we could still hang artwork on the doors.  So Ran and Jamie built me the mother-of-all- mother cupboards this winter.
It can easily hold all my canning jars.  And because we live in a cold climate, we love that it makes the living room  even cozier.  Plus I don't have to worry about my poor joists because the downstairs one are actual tree trunks spaced about twelve inches apart notched into a sill that is made back in the days of virgin forests.  In other words, you could probably sit two elephants on the floor over there and the floor wouldn't sag a bit. As some of you might remember this was the wall that held all of Ran's guitars.  They have now been moved to where the old canning cupboard on the landing was.
We are forever moving things around to make this home work.  It was a cheap little house and it will probably never have any real value except to us, but of all the homes I've lived in, this is the one that has made me the happiest.  It really is an artistic expression of us; all  of the furniture is either made by Ran or things we picked up second hand and remade,  the artwork on the walls is our own or something that has a personal meaning to us, the things that make it a home are things that have memories. For instance, I think of my knitting as artwork, so up on the landing, I use an old orchard ladder to display some of my handknit shawls.
And I like to have skeins of yarn, old embroidery hoops, my little doll sized quilts hanging here and there.  Just so people know that a craftsperson and a musician live here.


We've been basically shut in since November, almost all our neighbors and friends went south for the winter and is was so blustery we didn't travel much, so I had plenty of time to knit.  Over the past several months I've knitted, three shawls, two pairs of mittens, a hat, a Estonian style scarf, a Miss Marple scarf, a pillow, two pairs of socks, and the back and left side of a vest for Ran (this year's Christmas present) and various littles.  Here's a picture of the edging of one of the shawls:
I love the fern-like edge.  This was a quick knit and the pattern comes from Knitpicks, I believe the book was titled Under 100.  The project I'm currently working on is Spring Bloom Mitts and the free pattern can be found here.
One thing that I realized during all this shut-in time is that I need to be prepared with more sewing supplies.  When or if my local Ben Franklin reopens, I intend on laying-in a good supply of things such as sewing machine needles, snaps and fasteners, various sizes of elastic, etc.   Last week I had a bit of  a frustrating day when I wanted to sew something, broke my sewing machine needle, didn't have another one. And that was after I had to unwind a bobbin by hand because I didn't have a spare one.  So then I decided to  hand sew one of the snood-type headcoverings that I like, but couldn't find any elastic. A very long time ago I read a book about a women that had lived in either the Ukraine of Albania, I can't remember which, during WWII and afterward the Soviet occupation.  She said that the one thing she did was sew clothes for children because, hard times or not, children do outgrow their clothes.  And I had also heard many stories growing up about the Depression and how people had so few clothes, so I have been collecting nice pieces of fabric whenever I find them at garage sales and thrift stores, for "just in case".  But I never thought about zippers, snaps, bobbins, etc.  So I'll be on a mission, once the stores reopen!


You hanging in there?  Ha!  We've been endeavoring to clean out our freezer in anticipation of the new gardening and fishing season.  We had a ham in there bought during the holidays at something like 68 cents a pound, and plenty of bacon because our oldest son raises his own hogs and gives us a cooler full of meat for Christmas.  We used to buy a holiday ham sausage from a Polish butcher at Easter time, but he had gone out of business long ago so we decided to make our own, all we had to buy was a inexpensive pork butt roast ($1.18/ lb.).  As the pork was the most expensive ingredient, this sausage cost us less than a dollar a pound.  And it is so good!  

Ham Sausage

4 lbs. pork
3 lbs. ham
1 lb. bacon
1 tbsp. sage
2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2  tsp. thyme
4 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. dry mustard

Combine all the seasoning in a small bowl.  Cut the meat in chunks that fit into your meat grinder.  Toss the seasoning with the meat.  Grind through the meat grinder.  Form into patties and thoroughly cook to temperature for pork.

I brown my sausage and can it, which make it easy for me to get breakfast on the table, but this sausage can be frozen either cooked or uncooked.  (The obvious things a person must write these days!)

If you haven't ever tried making your own sausages, you might want to give it a try.  It's almost always cheaper than those tubes of it you get at  the grocers.  And you control what is goes into it.  No pig snouts, no msg, no artificial colorings or flavors.  You can often find meat grinders at estate sales and thrift stores. It's a pretty fun thing to try out old  heirloom recipes of varieties that you can no longer buy.  So give it a try! Maybe you'll invent the next hot dog!

So that's about it from the old Zempel boarding house.  Hope you have a wonderful week.  Now get out there and be thrifty!


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Well, This is Embarassing

Hello dear friends!  Well ,this is embarrassing.  How many times have I stopped and started this blog?  I'm pretty sure some of you are fed up with it.  Each time I do, I get less and less readership, not that t it's important to me, as this blog  has never been a vehicle to make money, push products or become popular.  And I bet that there's others out there that think I'm just doing this for attention. I assure you,  I'm not.  I never realized that there were people out there that actually enjoyed  my long-winded posts.  A lot of them are just random thoughts, that  can't even be labeled .  But since I decided to go private, I've heard from more people than my "followers" (hate that term) number would indicate I had.  I have to say, there's some pretty clever folks out there when it comes to tracking down where to contact me.  Did some of you work for the FBI? Ha!

I didn't stop this blog because of the hurtful comments, although I must admit it was quite a kick in the stomach to open a "friend's" blog and read a post about what a hateful negative person I was to write about quotes from politicians and Bible verses.  And the people that tout the mainstream media's line about those that protest against this quarantine " not caring about people".  When they wish death upon me or my family because I'm killing people by not falling in lockstep with the agenda, well, what can you say about such a "caring"  person?

But here's the truth about why I stopped blogging;  I don't like me when I respond to these people.  Due to my childhood experiences, that I've hinted at here and there,  when people criticize me and threaten me, my natural reaction is to cut them down a peg or two.  Even though  I know it's a defense mechanism, I just can't seem to stop myself.  I've prayed over it, I've analyzed it,  but the flesh is weak.  It is the trait I most despise in myself. I know that I need to follow the example of Jesus and turn the other cheek but I am so  so weak.   The only solution I can come up with is to not have this outlet to protect myself from my  own inner demon.  I didn't want to keep the blog open because  eventually, someone will leave a comment  and convince me to have another go at it.  I just didn't want to be persuaded anymore because it would just set me up for another failure.

But then people started contacting me  about how could they be included in the private blog and I thought perhaps some had hurt feelings because they felt they were being excluded.  As the person that has spent much of her life "looking through the window" at parties and such, while being left out, that is the very last thing on earth I wanted  to make anyone feel.

So here's the scoop.  I'm going to keep this blog open so those of you that want to access it can.  I may or may not write posts, don't know.  But I want the negative Nellies to know, I'm through arguing with you.  You want to write something negative, it will be deleted.  If you want to use this blog as  a  platform for your views you'll have to find it  somewhere else.  I've heard all my life, that you should be respectful of other people's views, and I look at the world around us, and wonder if that is true?  Right? There are some things in life that I don't think we should just respectfully agree to disagree with.. I'm not the greatest Biblical scholar, but I do recall that Jesus did throw the moneychangers out of the temple. I don't want to hear your views on why abortions are a right, your new-age philosophy of   "many paths to Heaven", and that we should give up our Constitutional rights for the sake of public health.   I can't argue you out of your views, and you sure can't make any argument  that will convince me otherwise.  I cannot pat you on the head and say "thank you for your view".  Why? Because these things are important. If you don't like what I stand for, by all means, feel free to not read, because I'm at the point of life, whether or not if someone "likes" me is of little concern.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Just A Note

Starting Sunday, this blog will be private, so if you want any information off of it, you'll need to make copies. It has become too stressful for me and if I can't be genuine without fear of backlash, I do not want to do it any longer.

Victory Gardening

Hello dear friends!  I've been reading that people are starting their own gardens.  One of the silver linings of all this business that is going on, is that people are becoming aware that they need to be more self-sufficient.  Hurray!  About time!  We've always had a vegetable garden and small orchard ever since we bought our first home in 1981.  I can't even fathom how much money it has saved us, plus I truly believe that it has contributed to our good health as we go into our senior years.  One of the helpful little booklets I found  for backyard (now called urban) gardeners is a little booklet put out by Stark Bros. Nursery during World War II. Here's a diagram of a small garden that anyone with even a small amount of gumption can tackle:

Sorry if the picture is a little small, you'll have to click on it if you want to see it in a larger image.  From the text:

The dimensions of this garden are 30 X 50, but it will be easy for you to adapt it to your own  small back yard dimensions. Keep in mind of the importance of growing the more expensive items such as fruits.  Here it also important that you combine food production with ornamental beauty.  In these times, when you plant a tree for ornamental uses or shade, it should be a fruit tree or fruit bearing vine.  

Now here's something that I've heard umpteenth times, "I'd love to have a garden like you, but I can't grow anything".  All the while I'm looking at their yard filled with flowers and shrubs.  If you can grow flowers, you can grow a vegetable.  If you can grow a flowering crab for ornamentation, you can grow a fruit tree.  As I've said many times, "Do you mean can't or won't?"

Here's a diagram of a little larger garden, that I particularly like:
And here's one for a half-acre plot that is common sized plot in many suburbs:
Some of the common mistakes that new gardeners make is to be too ambitious. The get someone to plow up a huge plot and find that by mid-July it's filled with weeds.  Proper plot preparation is key to success.  You need to till and work the soil until it's in pulverized condition.  You need to pull out all the grass clumps.  If you don't prepare your plots, you are just giving yourself more work and discouragement with weeding as the garden grows. That is why it is important to start small.

Another mistake I see is that new gardeners buy too many seeds.  A packet of seeds goes a long way.  They also start everything inside.  You need to read the back of the seeds packets.  Some vegetables, such as radishes, lettuces, peas , etc. are sowed directly outside before the last frost.  Some are sowed outside after frost, such as carrots, beans, corn, etc. About the only seeds we start inside are tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower and broccolis.  Here and here are two posts that Ran wrote on how to start seeds. We live in zone 4 (know your zone) and now is the time to start your indoor seeds.  Which leads me to the next point for my fellow Michigan gardeners.  Spoiler: I'm going to talk politics now, so you "sensitive"  types can stop reading:

Dear fellow Michiganders, as you well know, our lovely governor has prohibited the buying of seeds or plants and has ordered  mail order companies not to ship to our state. There is no other word for this but tyranny.  We must resist by civil disobedience.  Now. more than ever we must grow a garden in defiance.  Three ways to get around this absolutely ridiculous and illogical  edict is to trade seeds with neighbors, and ask friends and families from other states to send them to you.  A third way I've found,  is that seeds can be found in the produce section of smaller grocery stores.  (We should be supporting these smaller stores anyway.  Do not support WalMart and  Amazon, that Whitmer wants you to support. She probably has stock in them). I am so proud of my fellow Michiganders for protesting the governor.  We are showing the rest of the country how to stand up to tyranny.  Now get out there and start a garden and show Whitmer we refuse to lie down!

Friday, April 10, 2020


Hello dear friends!  Hope you are all doing well.  The other day I was making some flatbread because we were out of tortillas and I had no desire to go to the store, when it occurred to me how important bread is to a thrifty budget.  Way, way back in the 70s when my husband and I were literally starving students we used to buy store brand meat pies at 4/$1.  They were basically a crust and gravy with a few pieces of gristle and maybe a tablespoon of veggies, but boy we looked forward to them!  Obviously, they were not very filling so we sopped up every drop of gravy with bread.  Back in the day,  there were bakery outlets on almost every city block  you could buy a grocery bag full of bread for a couple of dollars. That bread was a real life saver for us.  It kept us full.  Toast with a cheap jar of store brand jam was our snack in the evening (I think you can still buy a pretty good sized jar of jam at the dollar store), it was our breakfast , it stretched our meager dinners.  I will always be grateful for those outlet stores.  I don't know if these outlets exists any longer, but it would be worth checking out.

Later, when we had a bit more money, we began to bake our own bread.  Bread baking duties quickly became my husbands area, as he made a much superior loaf to mine.  He's a chemist and he loves to do everything precisely, I'm more of a free spirit and like to wing it when it comes to baking, resulted in varied results.  So for over forty years, he's been the chief bread baker in our household.  As a result, I am not all that practiced upon it, and as many things in life,  practice makes perfect.  It takes time to learn what is just the right texture, just the right amount of liquids, etc.  So all this to say in a long-winded way , is that even though you can't bake a decent loaf of bread to save your life, there's plenty of easy ways to get thrifty bread on the table.


Biscuits are quick and easy.  When all you can afford is vegetable soup, a biscuit makes it a meal.  Here's the recipe I use:

2C. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 C. shortening
1 C. buttermilk

Combine dry ingredients. Quickly cut in shortening. Mix in buttermilk just enough to make a soft dough. .Pat dough on a lightly floured surface to 3/4 inch thickness.  Cut into rounds. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until a light golden brown.

Now, here's where being a lazy baker comes in handy.  When baking biscuits you want to do everything quickly and lightly.  When cutting in the shortening, you want to do just enough to make pea-sized crumbs. It's the layers of shortening and flour that make them flaky (ditto for piecrusts).  You don't want to play with dough any more than you need to, so don't roll with a rolling pin, just pat the dough. And  pat the dough out as few as times as possible, each rerolling makes the dough tougher.  I once watching a lady on YouTube knead her dough (yikes!) they came out looking like hockey pucks.  When cutting the rounds don't twist the cutter, just one motion up and down.  Place the biscuits on the cookie sheets close together so that they rise high.  In other words, the less you do the flakier and more tender your biscuits will be. This applies to piecrusts too, everyone always ask for my secret crust recipe, but it isn't the recipe that makes the flaky crusts, it's the lazy technique.

A note on buttermilk:  If you don't have buttermilk you can substitute for it by adding a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to your measuring cup before adding the milk.  I use buttermilk in almost all my baking because it makes a tender crumb. Buttermilk costs more than regular milk, so here's what I do, once my quart or buttermilk gets down to about a half of pint, I add regular milk to the quart and shake it.  Refrigerate for a couple of days and you have  another quart of buttermilk.  Like cheese, buttermilk is a cultured food and it regenerates, if you keep it up.  I only buy a new quart about every six months, although I use buttermilk several times a week.


1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 C oatmeal
1/3 C. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 C. melted butter
1 egg
1/3 C. milk

Combine the dry ingredients.  Stir in the melted butter, egg and milk.  Again, using the instructions for biscuits, work the dough quickly and lightly.  Pat into a 8 inch circle about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut the dough halfway through into wedges.  Gently spread 1 tbsp. butter over top and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  Transfer rounds onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

Scones make a wonderful breakfast or a snack for fikka.  One tradition our little family of three adults keeps is to fikka everyday around three.  We get together and have a cup of coffee and a snack such as these scones.  We talk about our day and play a board game.  It's a lovely, relaxing tradition, that is so makes life so pleasurable.  We eat our main meal at noon and do not eat in the evening so  sometimes the guys will eat leftovers during this time.  There are no hard and fast rules. Which is another reason our grocery bills are so low, we do not eat three meals a day.  Breakfast and one substantial meal should suffice for most people unless you are really working hard as a manual laborer.  Plus most people eat snacks too.  If you make your evening snack something healthy, you might discover you do not need that meal at six in the evening.

Anyway, that's my thoughts for the day.  I hope that you all will have a blessed and joyful Resurrection Day!