Thankfulness and Gift Ideas for Homesteaders & DIYers

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Can it still be Thanksgiving? Don’t get me wrong – I’m looking forward to Christmas and enjoying the weeks leading up to the holiday, but Thanksgiving is pretty special. Not only is there a massive feast featuring a smorgasbord of goodies from mashed potatoes & gravy to green bean casserole to mandarin orange salad to pumpkin pie, but people are usually so darn happy. You’re supposed to reflect on all the things you are thankful for and to cherish friends and family. It’s awesome!

I was particularly thankful for the snow that fell the morning on Thanksgiving Eve. It was just enough to cover the ground but not enough to hold CK and I hostage at my mom’s. Not that that would be terrible, but I loved being able to scoot back down to our house on Friday and still have a weekend to shop, run errands, clean, and generally spend all of Sunday in my pajamas. I am thankful for an amazing fiance, an eccentric family that always keeps me laughing and on my toes, incredible friends that warm my (sometimes cold) heart, a fun-loving pup and an adventurous pony, a job that teaches me something new every day, and a head full of dreams that inspire me to keep on chugging.

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Things got a little weird around Thanksgiving for my nephew, CK, and me. Look at that snow! Anyway, now on to…

Gift Ideas for Homesteaders and DIYers

Black Friday and Cyber Monday just wrapped up, but I’m sure a lot of people still have Christmas shopping left. Even if you don’t, just let me think that you do. That way I won’t feel so bad for only being about 25% of the way done with my shopping list! As I was contemplating gift ideas for myself and for the crafty folks in my life, as well as thinking back to some of my most prized possessions, here are some gifts that stood out from the rest of the pack.

In the Kitchen

  1. KitchenAid Mixer – 5-Quart Artisan Series. You can’t make a list like this and NOT include the KitchenAid mixer. This is still on my wishlist. From talking to friends and family, the 6-quart professional series is probably overkill. And the 5-quart comes in a ton of awesome colors like persimmon (my fave) and green apple!
  2. Marcato Atlas Pasta Maker. It’s been listed for a great price on Amazon. Store-bought pasta simply can’t compare to homemade pasta.
  3. U.S. state cheese slate. Shhh, I picked one of these up for my best friend (who doesn’t know this blog exists… yet) who loves maps and anything to do with states. Made from Maine slate and shaped as a particular state or you can even get one shaped like the U.S.
  4. Victorinox 8″ Straight Edge Chef’s Knife. Trying to slice up a whole chicken will get old really quickly with a dull knife. I love this chef’s knife! It’s not a super expensive investment, and it sharpens easily. We use a simple sharpening steel to keep the edge sharp.
  5. Cute apron. Who said you have to stick to perfectly utilitarian gifts for a budding or experienced homesteader? Check out Etsy for a variety of stylish and fun aprons that will protect your clothes from flying sauces without sacrificing style.

In the Craft Room

  1. Brother CS6000i Sewing Machine. This is the sewing machine I’m lusting after right now. Maybe Santa will surprise me with one! A friend bought a cheaper, simpler model Brother sewing machine and upgraded pretty quickly. This machine would get you far more mileage before you felt like you needed something more heavy duty (e.g. if you discover that quilting is your long lost love).
  2. Fiskars Rotary Cutting Set. This is another item on my wishlist. So much easier and more precise than slicing away with a pair of scissors! Also a must for someone getting into quilting!
  3. Walnut Hollow Wood Burning Tool. This thing is so much fun! I bought it to burn table numbers into wood slices, but it’s also been fun to play around with the different tips and application methods to create little works of art. Very versatile!
  4. Craft-oriented jewelry. Check out this awesome measuring tape and sewing machine charm necklace on Etsy! Really cool idea for someone who might already have all of the equipment they want and enjoys unique jewelry.

In the Garage/Workshop

  1. DEWALT 18-Volt Drill/Driver Kit. I love Dewalt anything. CK would probably say my love for Dewalt is directly correlated with my love for yellow things. And it’s also because my miter saw (first major power tool purchase) is Dewalt and it’s amazing. Lots of DIY projects require or would be made easier with a good drill.
  2. Energizer Head Lamp. The first time I bought a head lamp, I picked up a fancypants one from a local hiking/outdoors shop. It worked fine, but eventually I lost it. I bought a cheapo Energizer head lamp, and that’s all I’ve bought since then. No need to spend much on a head lamp, but having one definitely comes in handy when working late on a project (or hunting for the rogue nail that fell behind the washer).
  3. Gift certificates to local workshops or classes. This is a great idea for a DIYer that might be exploring woodworking, pottery, etc. interests. If your gift recipient is in an urban area, you can definitely find shops or organizations that offer these classes. Even in my smaller city, there are a couple of places to choose from for anything from painting to pottery to woodworking to blacksmithing.

In the Garden

  1. The Backyard Homestead book. Super helpful book with lots of specific ideas on how to grow the most food in your backyard. Great book for someone just getting started with urban homesteading/farming.
  2. Plant Nanny Wine Bottle Stake Set. I used to work at Smith & Hawken, a gardening and outdoor furniture store that has since closed, and these Plant Nanny stake sets were a huge hit! Great gift idea for the gardener who also enjoys relaxing with a glass (or two) of wine. Helps keep plants hydrated and is a fun way to use up some bottles.
  3. Heirloom seeds. You can get really creative and involved with seed packets! While you want to make sure you pick seeds that can be grown in the gift recipient’s region, you have a lot of freedom to choose special and unique seeds for veggies or flowers. A great place to pick up heirloom seeds is Seed Savers Exchange.
  4. Funky bird feeders. In particular, I really like this owl bird feeder – I love all things owl! It never hurts to attract birds to the area. Birds will chow down on those pesky bugs that want to consume prized veggies.

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Why I Hate Leftovers But Love (Gluten-Free) Lasagna

As a wannabe homesteader, it pains me to say this but… I hate leftovers. Mostly. I’m making every possible attempt to help my taste buds overcome this weakness. But I’ve spent many years refusing to eat food that has been reheated in an oven or, gasp, a microwave. It just never tastes as good! Especially not when compared to the virtually limitless number of other yummy things I could be eating instead.

Normally if you talk money and economics to me, I’m persuaded. My brain realizes that eating leftovers would be the smart choice to save money. But my mouth will not cooperate. I’ve convinced myself for essentially my entire life to believe that leftovers are inferior and taste terrible. My brain thinks that I can taste “microwave” in the food. But it’s getting better! Among the things I will now eat as leftovers, there is pizza, breakfast casserole, mashed sweet potatoes, and lasagna. This makes packing foods for lunch at the office easier and allows me to branch out beyond sandwiches and salad. So next I’d like to share a bangin’ gluten-free lasagna recipe that I discovered from The Domestic Man blog.

Gluten-Free Lasagna

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I made very few modifications to The Domestic Man’s recipe. It was my first time using rice noodles, and I could barely tell a difference. Not mushy but not undercooked and crispy either. Here was our slightly modified ingredients list:

  • 1 pkg no-boil lasagna rice noodles
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp avocado oil
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 28oz cans tomato puree
  • 15oz while milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups parmesan cheese, shaved
  • 1 lb whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 egg

The original recipe used a dutch oven; unfortunately, CK and I haven’t gotten around to acquiring one of those marvelous cooking vessels yet, so we improvised.

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Turned out just fine browning the onion, garlic, and beef in a skillet before transferring over to our large stainless steel stock pot, where we added the heavy cream and tomato puree (though not at the same time).

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I splurged on our cheese filling ingredients. Found fresh ricotta at Wegmans, bought the fancy shaved parmesan, and shredded the mozzarella ourselves. This may not sound all that special, but it is for us on a weeknight!

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I was very liberal with the cheese towards the end of the lasagna construction! I always use too little at the beginning and then end up going overboard with the cheese. I did the same thing when I was a kid and could convince my Dad to buy me a cheese pizza Lunchables (this was a rare occurrence, let me tell you). I would make the first little pizza with about 3 little shreds of cheese. By the time I got to the last little pizza, I had half a bucket of cheese left to use and piled it on thick.

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This slice of lasagna tasted great today after a 2-minute nuke in the microwave. Dare I say it even tasted BETTER the second day than the first! I am slowly but surely overcoming my leftover-phobia.

Simple DIY Twine-Wrapped Bottles

My wedding is about nine months away, but I’m trying to get a head start on some of the “basic but fundamental” decor pieces. And I’ve found that it makes the wedding feel more real to start working on some of the DIY decor. It’s much easier to see the design come to live when you’re engaged in hands-on projects. Of course, I’ve been hounding Pinterest and a slew of wedding photographers for inspiration on how to achieve these seemingly contradictory pairs: simple and elegant, rustic and polished, stylish and unique, inexpensive and memorable, easy and fun. Shall I continue?

There’s a lot of pressure on everybody these days! The bride and groom and/or their families need to host a spectacular event to celebrate such a special day “that only happens once,” wedding vendors often fear bridezillas (side thought: can we make “frankengroom” a thing?) and unbearable expectations, and wedding guests are bombarded with fears of wearing the wrong thing, buying the wrong gift, and spilling wine on the bride’s dress. That last fear is still very much legitimate.

In a nutshell, wedding planning is stressful. I’m also very stubborn and am working with a tight budget, since CK and I want to pay for the wedding ourselves. We pretty much have to DIY some portion of the wedding, but I worry how things will turn out. I don’t think of myself as a very crafty person, but I’m learning and improving! Enter the simple DIY twine-wrapped bottles. Ours will serve as part of the centerpieces at our guests’ tables.

I’m sure anyone reading this blog has seen these bottles all over Pinterest, Facebook, etc. I certainly read a lot of the instructions and scoured for example photos. My twist on the twine-wrapped bottle trend is below.

Simple DIY Twine-Wrapped Bottles

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Supplies:

  • Bottle
  • Mod Podge or similar adhesive
  • Foam brush
  • Hemp twine, yarn, or other type of twine
  • Newspaper (optional)

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Time to complete each bottle: ~ 1 hour

Steps:

  1. Pick a bottle, any bottle. I lucked out with free liquor bottles from a local distillery. Wine bottles are also very popular, but I wanted something a bit different.
  2. Gather your supplies. Put newspaper down if you’re like me and tend to get glue, paint, etc. EVERYWHERE when getting crafty.
  3. Brush on a thin layer of Mod Podge to the top of the bottle. If you’re not familiar with Mod Podge, it dries clear so don’t freak out. Tie a simple knot at the top of the bottle. Hold the knot in place while it dries to ensure your twine is sitting flush with the top of the bottle. Alternatively you could skip the knot; admittedly, it doesn’t look as nice, but I like the added security of the knot, since my bottles have to lie dormant for many months and still look great when the wedding rolls around.
  4. Proceed to wrap the twine down the bottle row by row. If you choose to do the knot, you’ll have a little extra twine to wrap over at the beginning – not a big deal. Go slowly! Make sure you’re wrapping tightly. Brush the Mod Podge on about an inch or two at a time as you make your way down the bottle.
  5. When you get to the end of your bottle or to the point where the bottle curves back in (and then becomes impossible to continue wrapping tightly), brush on a healthy helping of Mod Podge to secure the end.

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Love the fun shape of these bottles! It really does take an hour though to finish wrapping one of these bad boys. I’ve made three so far and haven’t gotten significantly faster. But my wrap job has gotten tighter and straighter each time.

When you get to the end of the bottle, don’t be afraid to glop on the glue. It dries clearly and isn’t that noticeable.

Here is how the bottle first looked coated in Mod Podge:

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About 15 minutes later:

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And there you have it! Your own cool twine bottles. I’ve seen a lot of yarn-wrapped bottles around, but it’s not really my style. I love the look of the thin twine, and I dig the natural hemp color. Just realize that it takes more time to wrap each bottle if you use a thinner twine or yarn. As an added bonus, the hemp twine I picked up smells very grass-y. My immediate reaction was to shout, “OMG THIS SMELLS JUST LIKE COW MANURE,” as soon as I took a whiff. Upon further investigation, it just has a very pungent earthy grass smell. I actually like it a lot. I have a “freshly cut grass” scented candle, and I love farm smells. Just a heads up though.

Random Culinary Adventures

As is often the case with me, I make an honest attempt to get back into writing consistently and then immediately become overwhelmed with other responsibilities. But I’m trying to get a good routine established. Plus I have lots of fun wedding chores crafts coming up, so there will be lots of blog-able material.

CK and I have been doing a great job feigning dedication to a paleo diet, while secretly binging on frozen pizza and soda in our all-too-frequent moments of weakness. It’s a sad, sad cycle. I’d say we eat clean diets about 70% of the time. Weekends are mostly a wash. But I’ve been making paleo or paleo-inspired breakfast and lunch meals, and our dinners during the week are reasonably nutritious. As always, we could use more salads and greens in our lives. Nobody goes by Popeye around here. Here are a few meals I’ve made.

Butternut Squash Soup

CK found this recipe online and has since forgotten its origins. But I have photos!

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It was pretty yummy, but it lacked some flavor and overall some punch. It tasted like… liquid squash. Which is great, but I suppose I was really missing the creamy factor of a good butternut squash soup. We made a TON of soup. It took us about four days to demolish the soup between snacks and meals.

At one point the soup looked like dog vomit. CK didn’t appreciate my comment. But it did!

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Total dog vomit.

Pork Chile Verde

I got this recipe from Stupid Easy Paleo. Instead of ghee, I used Kerrygold butter. If you don’t know what Kerrygold butter is, it’s deliciously golden butter made from grass-fed Irish cows and we snatch up as much as we possibly can from Costco. I’m addicted. I actually forgot to bring some with me to the office the other day for my sweet potato snack, and I had to use the office stick of butter. First, it was not yellow. Second, it lacked flavor of any kind.

I picked up cans of Hatch green chiles, but I skipped the tomatillos. As usual, I forgot to garnish with cilantro. I love cilantro, but I never seem to remember the art of presentation after I’ve cooked something. I’m content with the feeling of satisfaction that comes from passably fumbling through a recipe.

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Choppin’ meat! Pardon the delectable can of spray paint on the counter.

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CK was on a business trip, so I was manning the kitchen alone. At one point I really needed about six arms. Sydney could have been my sous chef, but she was probably making sure she had a super clean bum instead (her usual nighttime/daytime/morning/mid-day routine).

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The finished product! I need to learn to take more appealing photos, but trust me – this stuff was amazing. Tender, flavorful pork and a scrumptious chile sauce. Made great leftovers for lunches.

Buffalo Cashews

This recipe I got from the Virginia is for hunter gatherers blog. I bought tumeric powder just to make these – I’m obsessed with buffalo wings but am trying to avoid trips to Buffalo Wild Wings to avoid the pain to my wallet and digestive system. The results were so-so.

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CK wolfed these bad boys down, but I thought they turned out a little mushy. I flipped them every seven minutes and flipped a total of about four times. Basic math tells me I baked them roughly 28 minutes at 325°F. Next time I will probably increase the temperature and go a bit longer. The photo was taken after the first or second flip, so they did darken from how they appear in the photo. But they were not CRUNCHY.

Also, I discovered that cashews contain the resin urushiol, which is found in poison ivy and mangoes. They are all in the same family! Eating truly raw cashews can cause skin rashes and major reactions, especially for those allergic to poison ivy. We bought “raw” cashews from Wegman’s, but all raw cashews purchased in grocery stories have been processed to remove the resin. Still, that freaks me out, and I partly think I didn’t enjoy the buffalo cashews because in my head I was putting them on the same level with rat poison. I’ll try again and see if I can’t get them crispier.

Will post some of my progress making wedding decorations. Twine-wrapped bottles, mercury glass mason jars, and more.

Transition from a Solo Budget to a Shared Budget

It’s crazy how quickly time flies by, but it’s been nearly three years since the last time I was able to live with CK (and Sydney!). Between both of us attending grad school and then getting jobs in different cities, we’ve scraped by with weekend visits. But now we’re finally going to be reunited and living under the same roof! Since the very beginning, we’ve been slowly sharing more and more details on our respective financial situations. In the past year, we created a shared Google Doc spreadsheet that includes all of our regular monthly expenses (rent, car insurance, health insurance, etc.), student loan payments, credit card payments, retirement fund contributions, savings contributions, and the slew of variable costs (e.g. gas, groceries, entertainment, etc.).

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This is a screenshot of our shared Google Doc budget, just to give you a rough idea. My budget is the first 4 columns, and CK’s starts at the 5th column.

It was extremely helpful to better understand what financial obligations the other person had on their plate. CK has some hefty student loans and a car payment, but I own a horse and also have student loans to pay off. It seems basic, but it really helps to just see all of the numbers on one screen and know where all the money “magically” goes each month. So after the shared Google Doc budget, what was the next step? A shared savings account.

A few months ago, we realized we were less than two years out from the wedding and needed an organized way to make sure we could squirrel away some dollars to avoid wedding horrors like a cash bar. Enter the shared savings account. We both have set up automatic withdrawals from our personal checking accounts into the shared wedding savings account for each paycheck. Now if someone sees the perfect set of table linens or recycled decorations from another wedding on Craigslist, we can scoop them up with our personal debit/credit card and reimburse ourselves from the wedding savings account. And the next step? A shared checking account.

For rent, utilities, and other household items (like groceries), we’re going to set up a shared checking account. We’ll still have our individual checking accounts, but this will allow us to cut a single rent check and better track household spending. An added bonus is that it will be adorable to see our names printed together on the checks. This is what I get excited about these days – checkbooks and joint accounts!