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Country Moon


What's Up With Kombucha

Country MoonWhat Is Kombucha?

There is a lot of buzz lately about fermented foods and one of the more popular ones is kombucha. It is a drink that is made from specific strains of bacteria, yeast and sugar. These are added to black or green tea and allowed to ferment for a week or more. The bacteria and yeast form a mushroom-like cloud on the surface called a scoby.

This fizzy, sweet and sour drink all rolled into one has a host of health benefits. It is a good source of probiotics, has the benefits of green tea and antioxidants, kills bacteria, reduces heart disease risk, may help manage type 2 diabetes and protects against cancer. Some even toot its help with weight loss.

So, what’s not to like? In certain people, it can promote the growth of bacteria that result in infection. However, this is usually due to unproper processing since it is unpasteurized and contains a mix of bacteria and yeast.

The Fantastic World of Fermentation

Fermentation has been in the news a lot lately. Eating fermented foods is one way to get probiotics into your system, the good bacteria that balances the gut microbiome. Fermentation refers to the process in which microorganisms convert carbs into organic acids and alcohol. Natural bacteria feed on the starch and sugars present in food to form lactic acid which helps to preserve food and extend shelf life.

Preserving foods using microorganisms has been around since we started cooking. Practically any kind of fruit or vegetable can be fermented including beets, carrots, green beans, watermelon and citrus peels. Most people, when they think of fermentation, think of sauerkraut. Icelanders ferment shark meat and folks in Sardinia do it with cheese teeming with maggots. Sauerkraut is fine for me!

When the bacteria break down the sugars into acids, it not only preserves the foods but also imparts a distinctively salty, tangy flavor. Preserving food in this manner creates deeper, more resonant flavors that canning and freezing can impart.

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Fermentation has gone from the relics of yesteryear to a massive food trend. Health foods made with this process was up 149% in 2018. Part of this trend is due to consumers’ demands for natural products that deliver added health benefits and fermented foods have long been associated with positive digestion. These foods are easier absorbed since they are pre-digested by beneficial bacteria.

Fermenting foods is actually fairly simple to do. Cut up the veggies or fruit and sprinkle with spices and then cover them with a salt solution which is usually mixed at a rate of two teaspoons of salt to one quart of water. Pack all this in a Mason jar, leaving an inch of space at the top. Seal it up and wait for the bacteria to do its job. Check after a few days and your taste buds will tell you when it is ready.

There are some newer kids on the block, so to speak, when it comes to fermented foods. Kefir, tempeh and miso are ones that you may have heard of lately. Kefir is a cultured, fermented beverage that tastes like yogurt, but in drink form. It is made from starter grains, much like you would use a starter to make sourdough bread. It has a tart, creamy flavor and is loaded with probiotics.

Tempeh is a cake-like substance made from cooked and slightly fermented soybeans. Fermenting breaks down phytic acid, making it easier to digest. It can be cubed, ground or sliced and fried, often used as a meat replacement. It has a nutty, earthy flavor that is similar to the flavor of mushrooms.

Miso is a salty, savory Japanese fermented soybean paste made by inoculating a mixture of soybeans with a mold called koje. The koje has been cultivated from rice, barley or soybeans. Thus, if you are trying to stay away from soy, look for miso that doesn’t have soybeans as its base. It is used for broth without meat, creamy salad dressing with just the right amount of salt, glaze that leaves fish crispy and caramelized and also to balance the sweetness level in doughnuts, jams and cobblers. It’s one of those products where you have probably eaten it without knowing it.

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Brewing Your Own Kombucha

Now, back to kombucha. It is relatively easy to make your own or you can purchase it plain or infused with different flavors.

The first thing you will need is a scoby, which is an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Basically, it is a cousin to the “mother” in vinegar. Yep, it’s the rubbery, weird looking thing that floats on top of kumbucha. The easiest way to start is to get a piece of a scoby from a friend, just making sure that it comes from someone who knows the proper way to ferment and is sanitary. You can also buy a scoby or grow your own.

To grow your own, you will need 7 cups of water, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 bags of black tea and 1 cup of unflavored, unpasteurized store-bought kombucha. Bring the water to a boil, stir the sugar in until completely dissolved, then add the tea bags and allow to steep until completely cool. Combine the sweet tea and kombucha in a quart jar. Stir the mixture, cover with a few layers of cloth, coffee filters or paper towels and secure with a rubber band.

Place the jar in a room with average temperature (around 70*F) and out of sunlight. Be patient, first bubbles will form on the surface, then they will collect into a film and finally the film will thicken into a solid, opaque layer. This is the scoby and when it is about a quarter inch thick, it is ready to be used to make kombucha tea.

Now, for the tea. This is your first fermentation. It is basically following the same instructions as for making the scoby except you should double the ingredients. When it is room temperature (very important), with VERY clean hands place the scoby in the tea and then add the starter tea (from the jar the scoby was in). Unlike when you made your scoby, you can use other teas in this step.

Again, place the jars in a room with average temperature and out of direct sunlight for six to 10 days. At day six, begin tasting your kombucha. It should be mildly sweet and slightly vinegary. The longer it ferments, the less sweet it will be because more of the sugar molecules will be eaten up.

Now, you are ready for the magic, the third fermentation. Strain the kombucha and funnel into bottles, leaving 1 ½ inches of space at the top. Add flavorings such as an orange peel, a couple teaspoons of honey, fruit or fruit juice, a piece of peppermint candy, candied ginger or any other of your favorite flavorings. Tightly seal with a lid and let set in a dark room for three to ten days at room temperature. After this, place in the refrigerator to slow the carbonation process and enjoy. Leave your scoby in the starter jar with one or two cups of starter tea for your next batch.

One word of caution here, until you become an old pro at this and when starting this third process, place a little of the liquid in a plastic bottle. When the plastic bottle becomes rock hard, the others are probably “done” and need to be burped by loosening the seal and letting some pressure out. If not, they can explode if the pressure becomes too high.

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Also, if something just seems “off” or it doesn’t taste right, discard the batch. Remember, you are working with bacteria here and even good bacteria can become bad if not handled properly.

Kombucha, while it has mega health benefits, isn’t for everyone. Start drinking it slowly, about 4 ounces a day until your body gets used to it. After that, the Center for Disease Control recommends drinking 4 ounces one to three times per day.

To everyone, kombucha cheers!

Sugar Has Company

Country MoonSugar is in the news a lot lately. It’s bad for you, cut down on it. Don’t eat sugar at all. Try sugar substitutes. It all can be confusing.

With all the choices, it is hard to tell what the best choices are. Honey, molasses, sorghum, maple syrup and many more can be whole food sugar substitutes. I have sort of muddled through this field, sampling different ones here and there without really knowing what I was doing. So, I decided to give it some serious thought.

I remember my uncle growing sorghum and pressing it into this thick, gooey substance that he, my Mom and the rest of the family loved over pancakes. To me, it was anything but a sweetener. Bitter is more the word that I would use.

Still, sorghum and its cousin, molasses, are often used as sweeteners. Many folks think they are one and the same although they are two distinct products.

If you ask most folks today, they haven’t a clue what sorghum is. A cereal grain, it is the fifth most important cereal grain in the world. With its natural draught tolerance, it can be grown in dry climates and is versatile as a food, feed and fuel. In the United States, besides human consumption, it is used as livestock feed and in ethanol plants.

It is naturally gluten-free and, unlike other grains, has an edible hull. It is high in antioxidants and the wax surrounding the sorghum grain contains policosanols which research is showing promise in its ability to lower cholesterol as well as statins. A couple generations ago it was the staple sweetener in southern dishes because it was cheap and plentiful.

Sorghum is made from the green juice of the sorghum plant, extracted from the crushed stalks, then heated to steam off the excess water, leaving the syrup behind.

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Molasses, on the other hand, is a by-product of processing sugar cane into sugar. Sulphured molasses is made from green sugar cane and is the highest quality because only a small amount of sugar has been removed. Molasses from the second boiling is darker in color and less sweet. Blackstrap molasses is from the third boiling and is high in iron and is used in the manufacture of cattle feed and in medicine.

Molasses is usually preferred for cooking and baking whereas sorghum is popular as a syrup. Ironically, sorghum has more calories in equal measure than molasses, maple syrup or honey.

Maple syrup is made by boiling down the sap of various maple trees. It is one of the oldest sweeteners and is mild and fragrant. It can be substituted for sugar in baked goods by adding 3/4 cup maple syrup for one cup of sugar, decreasing the liquid by 3 tablespoons and adding 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

Honey has been called “nature’s golden nectar.” It is made from flower nectar that bees gather, take back to the hive, where worker bees process the sweet syrup and store it in the honeycomb. How honey tastes and looks depends on what kind of flower the nectar comes from and weather conditions. It is 20 to 60 times sweeter than sugar and can be substituted in baking by using a very scant cup of honey for sugar and adding 3 tablespoons of liquid and a 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda.

That brings us back to sugar itself. There is white sugar, light and dark brown sugar, powdered sugar and raw sugar, just to name the main ones. What’s the difference?

Even white sugar is not simple. Crystal size is what makes the difference in types of granular sugar. Different sizes are used for different applications. Table sugar is characterized by fine crystals and a paper-white color.

Raw sugar is what is left after sugar cane has been processed and refined. It is sugar before the molasses has been removed. It is served in coffee bars as coffee and tea sweeteners and is often used as a finishing sugar.

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Powdered sugar is regular white sugar that has been ground into a powder. It is perfect for creating foods with a smooth consistency, for dusting desserts and in frostings and icings.

Brown sugar is simply sugar that has molasses added back in, giving it that brown or caramel color. The difference between light and dark brown sugar is the amount of molasses that it contains. It has .25 fewer calories per gram than white sugar.

As with most subjects, there are different views on whether any of these natural sweeteners are actually better than sugar itself. Some say that the less processed sugars are healthier than regular sugar. Some, like honey and sorghum do contain nutrients that regular sugar does not. Others say sugar is still sugar, in whatever form.

Even though a sweetener contains some vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes, even in trace amounts, that still does not justify eating large quantities of them. Perhaps the main basis for choosing a sweetener is on its taste. Different ones work better for different recipes and applications.

Variety is still the spice of life and so it is with sweeteners too. Sometimes I make my cinnamon rolls with white sugar and sometimes with brown. Where would gingerbread be without molasses or honey rolls without honey? Different strokes for different folks go for us sweet tooths too!

Ovens Like Cast Iron Too

Country Moon

Cast iron, the stand-by cookware of years ago, is being re-discovered by many cooks, and not just for frying taters either. Baking with cast iron lends some delectable results. Just like it puts a good sear on steaks, it does the same with baked goods. Those brownies come out with crispy edges and nice, gooey insides.

The main reason cast iron works so well in the oven is that it gets hotter than traditional baking sheets and has higher sides. It also retains heat better than other baking materials. On the flip side, its greatest downfall is that it does have hot spots and does not heat evenly. But, with a little cast iron savvy, it can become your oven’s best friend.

When using cast, it is critical to remember two basics; to preheat and to season. Cast is thicker and heavier than most other cookware so, naturally, it takes longer to heat but retains heat longer. If you add cold food to a cold pan, you will have food sticking. Thus, cast always needs pre-heated, whether you are using it on the stove top or in the oven. It will take a little practice, but once you get your timing right, cast will yield amazing results.

Seasoning is the biggest factor when using cast iron. It is probably the thing that also scares folks away from using it. This makes no difference if your cast iron is new or vintage. On this note, the consensus is that old is better. If you are fortunate, you have your grandparents’ skillets or if you are a fan of flea markets or yard sales, you can usually find vintage cast iron there.

The gold standard of cast is Griswold brand, that was manufactured in Erie, Pennsylvania from 1865 to 1957. Today, they are collector’s items. Lodge, the family-owned company that has been making cast iron in Tennessee for 123 years, is the only remaining company that makes the cookware today. Although their pieces come pre-seasoned, it is still best to do it yourself. Through the years, their formula has changed slightly, so if you find vintage, that is still the way to go.

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To season initially, scrub the skillet well and dry thoroughly. Drying is the key because rust is the biggest enemy of cast. After drying, spread a thin layer of shortening or vegetable oil over the skillet, inside and out. Then, place it upside down on the center rack of the oven and heat to 375* for an hour. Be sure and place foil on the lower rack to catch drips. Let the pan cool in the oven.

That’s all there is to it. After using the cast iron, a shortened version of this process can be done on the stove top. After scrubbing and drying a skillet, place on a hot burner and add a thin layer of oil when hot.

Seasoning is essentially applying a layer of fat to the surface. The oil will be polymerized to the surface until it wears off. This layer protects the cast iron from rust and helps food to release, making cast iron cookware non-stick. The polymerized layer is more like a plastic than a fat.

Although any oil can be used, it is best to use healthy ones like canola since some of the oil will end up in whatever you are cooking. This brings us to the question of whether cast iron cooking is healthy for you. Some argue that iron from it will leach into the food which, for most people, is a good thing as it will supplement their iron intake. You also tend to use less oil when cooking with cast iron. There is a misconception that you cannot cook acidic food in it, but as long as it is seasoned well, tomato-based foods are fine.

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Cooking and baking with cast is easy. It is very forgiving, if you mess up, just re-season and start over. The main thing to remember is to always have it seasoned well, to preheat and to not over heat. Here are a couple recipes to get your oven acquainted with your cast iron:

Giant Buckeye Brownie

Ingredients

  • 1 pkg chocolate cake mix
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • Optional, hot fudge ice cream topping, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and melted creamy peanut butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350*
  2. Combine cake, eggs and oil, then stir in chocolate chips
  3. Press half into a greased 10-inch cast iron skillet
  4. Combine peanut butter and confectioners’ sugar, spread over dough in skillet
  5. Press remaining dough between sheets of parchment paper into a 10-inch circle and place over filling
  6. Bake until toothpick comes out just moist, about 25 minutes
  7. Server warm with optional ingredients

Shoofly Choclate Pie

Ingredients

  • Pastry for single crust pie
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup molasses

Instructions

  1. Line a 9-inch cast iron skillet with crust, flute edges and sprinkle chocolate chips in crust, set aside
  2. Combine flour and brown sugar, cut in shortening until crumbly
  3. Set aside 1 cup for topping, add baking soda, water, egg and molasses to remaining crumb mixture, mix well. Pour over chips, sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.
  4. Bake 350* 40 to 45 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean, serve warm

Garden Rotation My Way

Country MoonThe seed catalogs have been piling in and, as they do every year, their colorful pages entice me. They do their job well, the pages burst with pictures of vegetables and fruits that look so succulent that I want to plant them all, even knowing fully well that mine won’t look or grow anything like theirs.

Here lies the problem; I always do try to have it all. I think that is the case with most gardeners, especially here in the north where we have such a short growing season. We dream during the long winter days, especially when the seed catalogs show up, place our orders for a wide variety of produce and hope we can make it work when planting season actually gets here.

We even try to be creative by doing two or three different plantings of vegetables and ordering varieties with different maturity dates so everything is not ripe at the same time. I also think that the garden gods laugh at this method every year because, invariably, everything seems to ripen at the very same time, year after year.

Here lies the frustration. I am tired of trying to can, freeze and dry all vegetables and herbs all within a two or three-week span each year. So much of it goes to waste before I can get it all preserved no matter how hard I work.

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Well, this year I have a new solution to the problem…I hope. I am going to try a garden rotation plan, and I don’t mean for the soil. This one is for me to make better use of the produce and my time.

It follows the same philosophy as being good stewards of the soil. Because certain crops deplete the soil of some nutrients, it is always a good idea to rotate crops each year. When I grow tomatoes on the north side of the garden one year, then the next year they move to the south side. I do this with most vegetables, taking care to plant companion style since some crops like to be planted by certain other ones.

So, last year I concentrated on growing tomatoes, lots of tomatoes. I canned tomato juice, stewed tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and everything tomato-based. I knew when I was canning, that I would have more than I needed for one year. I also preserved an abundance of peppers, onions and dried herbs like rosemary, oregano and others that compliment tomatoes in dishes like spaghetti, lasagna, pizza, etc.

As it nears planting season this year, my pantry still has ample jars of tomatoes and tomato products. Looking at these leftovers is what inspired me to try this new gardening plan, a plan of rotating family of crops from year to year.

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I will start the rotation this year by having a few tomato plants to eat fresh and not concentrate so much on canning them. Instead, I will dedicate more garden space to a few different varieties of green beans, lima beans, etc. and plan on canning more than one year’s worth of them.

Next year the rotation will go to various varieties of cucumbers and canning dill pickles, bread and butter and a couple other varieties.

My theory is to concentrate on preserving a different family of vegetables each year. Of course, Mother Nature will have something to say about this. Just like the Chinese New Year recognizes a different animal each year, I truly believe crops have their “glory” years too. You can fertilize, water and do everything the same and yet some years tomatoes (or any other crop) will be better and more prolific than others.

I always notice this phenomenon particularly in flowers. There is usually always one variety that steals the show whether it be zinnias, marigolds, hydrangeas, or a number of different ones. Vegetables are no different. So, in some ways, this method will be a gamble that will, hopefully, pay off in the end.

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This plan of specialized planting each year should yield some advantages such as:

Natural Crop Rotation

If half the garden space is planted with different variety of beans, it will give the soil a break from tomatoes and the nutrients that they pull from the soil. The next year the garden can rest from what it takes to grow beans while something else is produced.

Ease of Fertilization

Each vegetable has its own nutrient needs. Sometimes it is like a puzzle trying to get the right combination of nutrients to each species of plant. This method would simplify the process.

Ease of Preservation

Although different varieties of each crop would probably still be ripening at the same time, the same equipment and processes would be used instead of trying to wrestle all crops in the kitchen at the same time.

Extra Reserves

With this method, you would actually be canning or freezing at least twice as much as the usual amount for one year. Since canned goods are shelf-stable for more than one year, you would be guaranteed enough for the following year in case of crop failure or other circumstances prevented that produce being put up the following year. It would take at least two or three years of using this strategy to ensure that the pantry was stocked with enough of all of the food groups for more than one year’s consumption. After that, it would be easy to stay on a rotational basis. This method would benefit everyone with a special emphasis on homesteaders.

Compensating for Bad Years

Even if there were a bad year where one crop did not produce at all (the year the squash bugs devoured my entire squash crop), you would just plan on doubling that crop the following year, thus still only losing that crop for one year.

This is the trial year to see if this method works as well functionally as it does on paper. I just remember previous years with tubs, boxes and baskets of tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and a host of other vegetables all waiting to be processed at once. Now, when I do one species, the cleaning and processing will all start the same making initial preparation more streamlined. Adding different spices and herbs will dictate the final product.

Hopefully, Mother Nature will give us a good gardening year to either prove or disprove my theory…to be continued.

Buckwheat Should Be a New Pantry Staple

Country Moon

Growing up I remember many a morning waking up to the smell of buckwheat pancakes. Those stacks of sweet, nutty wholesomeness slathered with rich maple syrup made for the best breakfast ever.

That was over 40 years ago and today buckwheat is making a comeback into folks’ kitchens. A lot of this renewed interest is because of the gluten free movement. It is more readily available than other non-wheat flours. Wait a minute, did I say non-wheat? Yep, buckwheat is literally in a class of its own.

Buckwheat is a pseudo-cereal, neither grass nor grain and has nothing to do with wheat. Instead, it is a fruit that is related to wild rhubarb. Its name came from the Dutch which means “the fruit of.” It is a popular plant to grow in many parts of the world because it is hardy and survives difficult conditions without requiring many pesticides or herbicides.

It matures quickly and is often planted as a cover crop. The entire plant is harvested and allowed to dry before removing the outer husks. The inner part of the fruit is what is used to make flour.  Buckwheat flour can be either light or dark, depending on how much hull is preserved. Light buckwheat flour is made from hulled kernels and the dark is derived from un-hulled and has dark specks in it. As it stands to reason, the dark has more fiber than the light.

Besides being gluten-free and high in fiber, it has a host of other health benefits to offer. Buckwheat is rich in, potassium, phosphorous, iron and calcium. It is one of the best sources of protein from plants and contains all of the essential amino acids.

It’s so good for your heart, you love it and it loves you right back. Buckwheat will lower blood pressure and also lower the risk of developing high cholesterol because it is rich in flavonoids, which are phytonutrients that act as antioxidants.

As if this weren’t enough good news, buckwheat has high levels of magnesium which relax blood vessels, which in turn improves blood flow. The nutrients in it also help control blood sugar levels, making it a great choice for diabetics.

Buckwheat can be purchased as whole groats (little pyramid-shaped seeds) and ground into flour or it can also be purchased as milled flour. Either way, there are many ways to use this versatile plant.

Groats can be toasted or eaten raw. When toasted, buckwheat groats are crunchy and flavorful like tiny nuts. They add a distinct flavor when topping salads or added to granola. They can be cooked and used to make a kasha side dish which is similar to pilaf or porridge. Some folks add them to cookie or cracker dough for a little extra crunch.

They can be purchased pre-toasted or you can do your own. To toast, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat and stir constantly until they are a shade darker than when you started. Just be careful not to toast until the hulls burst or they will taste burnt.

When the groats are ground, they produce a crystalline flour that is slate and lavender to brown in color and is flaked with darker bits of hull.

Baking with buckwheat flour can be rewarding and yield amazing results or the experience can be quite the opposite. The key is knowing how buckwheat flour performs with other ingredients. When switching from an all-wheat flour to a non-wheat, folks tend to want to go whole-hog, so to speak. When you switch out all the flour, it is a recipe for disaster unless other changes are made so the outcome doesn’t fall apart, taste like sawdust or otherwise misbehave. Excessive mixing or beating may make it taste bad and have a denser texture.

Pancakes, waffles, crepes and other baked goods that you don’t desire to rise a lot are the exception to the rule. All of these call for just enough mixing to blend the wet and dry ingredients without beating or whipping. They get plenty of structure from eggs, so 100 percent of the flour called for can be replaced with buckwheat or other gluten-free flour.

For other baked goods that need to rise more, the general rule is to replace 25 percent of the flour in recipes with buckwheat and leave the remaining 75 percent all purpose flour instead of other gluten-free varieties. Some cooks prefer to go with a larger percentage of buckwheat and some even go 100 percent. If you follow this path, the rule of thumb is to add extra eggs and extra baking powder for “lift.” In this case, add an extra one-half teaspoon baking powder for every half cup of buckwheat flour used. These rules will make for a better outcome when baking cookies, muffins, scones, cakes and quick breads.

Although buckwheat pancake mix is readily available, it can be a challenge to find plain buckwheat flour. Be sure and check local flour millers in your area because that will ensure that the flour is fresh. However, it can also be purchased in natural food stores, in the natural foods sections of some grocery stores and on-line.

It is certainly worth the extra bit of effort it takes to include buckwheat in your recipes and make it a staple in your pantry. More folks are falling in love with the robust, earthy, grassy, slightly bitter (in a good way) flavor with a hint of rose that is buckwheat.

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Buckwheat Bread

Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups buckwheat groats, rinsed
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt

Directions

  1. Place rinsed buckwheat in large glass bowl. Cover with water until it is 2 inches above the buckwheat. Loosely cover with a towel. Soak at least 2 hours or up to 24.
  2. Drain off liquid through a mesh strainer until most of liquid is out, set strainer over bowl and continue to drain for a minute longer. Liquid will be gooey. DO NOT RINSE
  3. Place drained buckwheat and 1 ¼ cups water and salt in food processor or blender. Blend just until it still has some texture.
  4. Pour in large glass bowl, cover with towel. Let set for 8 to 24 hours. It will rise slightly and be bubbly.
  5. Spray or grease a 9 x 5 bread pan, pour in batter, taking care not to deflate bubbles
  6. Bake in 425* oven 35 to 40 minutes or until browned at edges and firm in center
  7. Cool completely, toast or eat as is

The Uncollector

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Image by Sbringser from Pixabay

Stuff. It’s what makes a collector’s world go around. They go to shows, garage sales, search online and a host of other places to acquire “stuff.” Then they put the “stuff” on shelves and in display cases and it sets there…forever.

I have never understood this. I am not a collector, but rather a creator. I paint, I take photographs, I make new “stuff” so it can set there. Even though the end means is the same, this part I understand.

Finding a Buyer

Now I have ventured into the new realm of the un-collector. Instead of stuff, I want space. That means getting rid of stuff. This is not the same as just not collecting, instead it is not buying but rather, finding a buyer.

Easier said than done. No matter what the projected value of an item is, it is really only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, a fact that changes with the times. A collectible item when purchased does not mean it will always be a collectible item.

So, what are my options? I tried the yard sale route…never again. People come to yard sales with the intention of getting something for a buck or two which is fine for what-nots but not so good for true collectibles. Then there is the issue that, even though 99% of the people are respectful, there is always that one percent that feels they are free to pick up anything in your yard, go in barns and look around and basically make themselves to home. I don’t think so. On top of this, you always end up with stuff no one wants, including you, that has to be hauled away. Nope, no more garage sales.

So, I tried the route of hauling it away in the first place…to an auction. The only saving grace here was that I got rid of stuff, but with very little to show for it. It’s like rolling the dice, you take your chances on who is going to show up and what they want. Many collectibles sold for a little of nothing because the true collectible crowd wasn’t there. Nope, done with that too.

After going through these trials, I have found a better way. Be warned though, the new way can be addictive. It is Marketplace through Facebook.

Using Social Media

It is about the easiest thing I have ever done. You research the item that you want to sell on E-bay and get a general price range, depending on condition, for your item. Then you go to Marketplace, choose a category, upload a picture and name a price. Basically, anyone on FB can see it.

Then, to make sure that even more people see your item, you list it in more groups and more groups. There are local groups in each town and city that has their own online selling groups, the list basically goes on forever.

Then you wait. Folks message you about the item, you bicker sometimes on price and when you agree, both parties decide on a meeting place (usually a public one unless you know the buyer) and you get rid of the item and have cash in hand.

Now, there is a little more to it than that. Sometimes it means a couple trips into town in a day. Once in a while it means mailing it to someone further away. But, for these minor inconveniences, there is a bigger payoff. You actually get rid of stuff and have a little loot to boot.

Letting Go

Jim was the ultimate collector. Instead of choosing a select few categories, he would collect anything and everything. It was against his nature to part with anything. I even found plastic grocery bags inside of boxes tucked away in cabinets (you just never know when you might need one). He kept everything in pristine condition, in protective sleeves inside of hard plastics inside of showcases. Many collectibles had never been opened.

At first, I felt bad letting go of things that he had put his heart and soul into keeping. But some things I had no idea what they were or where they came from. They were just things. Then my niece Michelle made it all right. She told me that up until now the things were just setting in the basement, packed away neatly where no one could see them or enjoy them. When they went to a new home, they were bringing someone else joy. I like this outlook, the “stuff” could stay with someone who shared his passion for collecting.

A perfect example happened the other day. I had two decorative biscuit tins that were made in England. I had no idea where he even got them. Within an hour of listing them, two people messaged me. One was Ron’s cousin who had a similar one that she remembers her grandmother using for pineapple cookies. She had never seen another one. A friend from Minnesota saw the other one and she thought it would go perfectly with some of her Dad’s things on her mantle in her new house that she and her husband had built in the country. Needless to say, they both found new homes where they could be appreciated and bring others joy.

My snowmen are another example. At one time I had over 100 of them. It was Jim’s and my thing to set them out each year. It would take over two days just to unpack them and then two more days to pack them back up. This year I chose my special few and set them out in an hour’s time. The rest I let go to new homes. I’m OK with that.

Once in awhile I find something that I truly like. This is the case with a small crystal pumpkin bowl. It caught my eye, I like it. I will keep it.

I am liking this new addiction and it does work both ways. Not only do I list my stuff but I also check out what others are selling. You can find anything on Marketplace from collectibles to household items to services. There is an administrator somewhere out there in the cosmos that keeps an eye on what goes on there and there are some items that are not appropriate like guns and knives.

Sometimes I wonder why they flagged my salt and pepper shakers as being against their terms and yet someone list a pack of tampons…seriously! You just shake your head and move on.

I am liking this uncollectable person that I have become. For one thing, I have more space and the place is less cluttered. I also have come to realize that I am letting go of the stuff, not the memories. Less really is more.

Air Fryers Are More Than Hot Air

Air fryer1b 

If you bought every new gadget and appliance that hit the market, you would have to move out of your home to make room for the gadgets. Some actually do make your life easier and some…well some do just take up space.

Air fryers are one of those that I have been on the fence about. Fried foods are so good for the taste buds but so bad for your general health. Can you really have the best of both worlds with the air fryer by making French fries and other foods almost healthy?

How Air Fryers Work

First of all, what exactly is an air fryer? Basically, it is a smaller version of a convection oven. It cooks and crisps food by circulating super-hot air around foods using just a smidgen of oil or no oil at all. So, here is where healthy comes in; it cooks with up to 70 to 80 percent less fat than traditional deep frying.

From a safety standpoint, they are also safer than using hot oil for frying. There is no spattering or chances of getting burned by spilling hot oil on yourself. I have always thought it a shame when deep frying to use so much oil and then have to dispose of it all, usually only after one use. Air fryers are also less messy than traditional deep frying with no after smell nor needing to find a means to dispose of used oil.

They also cook faster than traditional ovens. There is no waiting time to pre-heat as you do ovens since air fryers reach high temperatures in minutes.

Should I Buy an Air Fryer?

If you are thinking of getting one, other than purely for health reasons, consider how much you will actually use it. Most of them are smaller, a three and a half to four-quart size, and will feed one or two people easily. However, it you have a bigger family, you will find yourself making multiple batches of food. You have to weigh the time of making multiple batches or waiting longer and doing just one batch in the traditional oven.

Price is another consideration. Most range between 60 and 200 dollars, depending on how fancy you want to get.

Also consider where you will store it. They take up a lot of counter space if you don’t have room in your cabinets. Because of their shape and size, they do require a lot of room. Like bread machines, many of them live their lives on closet shelves and in garages, which brings us to the point of out of sight, out of mind.

There is also the question of whether you need an air fryer if you have an Instant pot. Although Instant pots are hailed as being the latest and greatest, they don’t have the capability to fry foods unless you purchase a gadget called the Mealthy Crisp Lid which provides the attachments to allow your Instant pot to also air fry food. These sell for around $60, so that too is an added expense

Now, the big question, what about taste? Do air-fried foods taste like the real thing? Well, the answer is yes and no, depending on the food. Cheaper cuts of meat come out tender when air-fried. Air fryers are also great for re-heating leftovers and frozen foods like chicken nuggets and tater tots. Roasted vegetables, air-roasted garlic and other foods come out better in an air fryer. It can turn a can of chickpeas into a crispy, delectable happy hour snack. I remember my grandmother making doughnuts and how they sucked up so much oil. Air fryers make doughnuts that taste just as good, without all the oil.

Small whole chickens, three pounds or less, come out with crispy skin and juicy, tender meat, much like rotisserie chicken. The air fryer shines when it comes to small snacks like toasted nuts.

The big question here is French fries. The overall consensus is that they are not quite as good as the real deal. However, if you do choose to make them in an air fryer, they are better with the skins left on.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about an air fryer is that all it can do is fry. Far from it. You can also bake in it, turning out brownies and bagels, molten lava cakes and more. The good thing about this is that you can have a sweet treat that is only enough for a couple people so you don’t have temptation setting around.

What it boils down to is that air fryers make delicious food fast in small batches. They prove that you can have your cake and eat it too…or, in this case, you can have your French fries and still eat healthy.

Air Fryer Doughnuts (the quick way)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbs cinnamon
  • 1 tube Pillsbury Grands biscuits
  • 4 tbs melted unsalted butter
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, set aside
  2. Lightly coat air fryer basket with cooking spray
  3. Remove biscuits, separate and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet
  4. Place 3 or 4 biscuits in a single layer in basket
  5. Set fryer for 350*, cook 3 or 4 minutes on a side, then turn
  6. Place on cookie sheet, baste with melted butter and roll in cinnamon/sugar mixture
  7. Serve warm

Air Fryer Molten Lava Cakes

Ingredients

  • 3-1/2 squares bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup flour

Directions

  1. Melt butter and chocolate together
  2. Mix in sugar, eggs and vanilla
  3. Add flour, mixing in thoroughly
  4. Grease or spray a ramekin or small pan
  5. Fill halfway with batter
  6. Place ramekin or pan in fryer basket and cook at 375* for 10 minutes or until edges are set
  7. Remove, let cool and loosen edges with a knife






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