Thursday, December 18, 2014

Home Made Ranch Dip (No MSG!)

I have more than a normal level of excitement for learning to make my own ranch flavored vegetable dip.  I've tried to express this excitement to those at home, but was not getting the enthusiastic response that I thought this kitchen experiment deserved -  Hey guys, guess what?! I have all the ingredients to make ranch dip!! Isn't this awesome?... (not a single Whoop! in response).  Maybe I should explain how cool this is?  

A bowl of ranch flavored vegetable dip nestled into a ring of vegetable sticks has been a staple appetizer at family gatherings since I've been old enough to help chop the celery.  It's what we serve; it's what we like.  Kids love it too, and will actually eat vegetables if they can put ranch on it.  And, its' so easy to make.  All we have to do is stir a package of ranch seasoning into some sour cream, and  wha-la, the dip is made, and the special occasion has officially been launched.  

But, then we learned about monosodium glutamate (MSG).  Well, I guess we always knew about MSG, and knew it wasn't good for us, but I didn't truly appreciate the potential for harm until I was watching a documentary where one of the interviewees said that MSG is used to make mice fat for experiments on weight loss and weight gain using lab animals.  What?!  Sure enough, when I googled MSG there are pages of websites demonstrating that mice don't naturally eat until they are obese, but if you inject them with MSG, or feed it to them, they keep eating until they are fatties.  Not only do they get fat, some of the websites claimed that they develop poor eye site, eating disorders, and learning problems.  People are asking, what if MSG, which is in so many things we love to eat, is part of reason so many of us are fatties too?  It would be great to avoid MSG as much as possible, but there are no pre-packaged ranch dip seasonings that don't have MSG, at least not where I shop.  They don't even try to hide it by naming it something else, they just put it right in the ingredients list, bold as brass.  

I tried to stop serving it, but what is a try of vegetables without the bowl of ranch dip?  It's junk, that what.  Especially for the kids.  Raw broccoli without ranch dip is like asking a kid to eat tree bark, and I don't blame them.  We want our ranch dip, and we want it without MSG, and after years of telling myself I'm going to learn to make it from scratch, I finally, just last week, did it!  Whoop! Whoop!

Making ranch dip is not hard at all.  My hold up was gathering all the spices at the same time, plus finding powdered buttermilk.  I don't know why I thought it would be hard to find powdered buttermilk, since it turns out they sell it at Kroger, but some how when I looked at the long list of ingredients I always put it off.  Not anymore.  Here is the recipe I used, and when I served it to Jamie and Brandon, mixed in sour cream, even after they had been teasing me about what they thought was my disproportional excitement, they both agreed that it's some of the best ranch dip they had ever tasted.  Brandon even said "no joke" when he told me this, so I know he wasn't just being patronizing as I hovered over him when he tasted it.  

We all enjoyed the ranch dip with sour cream, which was a thick consistency good for dipping.  But what if we want to use it as salad dressing?  Well, a few spoonfuls of my home made keffir, and it turned into a creamy dressing that would be perfect.

I mixed up an entire jar of the powder, so all I have to do now is mix three tablespoons of the dry seasoning with the sour cream and I will be able to pull off the traditional vegetable tray for special occasions and eliminate the guilt of serving MSG.  

I could tell this dip was good when the cats started to circle me like sharks, and I didn't want to share a single drop with them.  I'll lick my own bowl, thank you.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sock Creatures Made with Sugar, Spice, Snips, and Snails

More silly sock creatures have appeared on my dining room table this holiday season.  They insisted that they be made for my nieces and nephew, even though we all know that no kid really wants toys made from some one else's old socks.  But, since I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when they open these monstrosities, I'm glad the silly sock creatures arrived when they did.  

I think these creatures are some of the funniest and ugliest I've ever created.  I didn't intend for them to be quite so ugly.  Until they arrived, I was pretty sure all sock monkeys were inherently cute.  The first one I made for my youngest niece sort of looks like cute puppy, so I assumed the rabbit shaped creature would have a similar cuteness factor for my older niece.  What's not adorable about argyle socks?

But, once the creature was stuffed, I realized that it wasn't very feminine, and my niece appreciates femininity.  The creature sort of looked like it had giant ant antenna instead of cute rabbit ears.  Sock creatures really do take on a life of their own.  No problem though, since I can feminize with some sparkly pink accessories, as my niece has taught me, and add some personality with funny teeth and googly eyes, right? 


As we all know, eyeball placement can define sock creature personality.  Luckily I discovered another handy use of the cell phone camera - the ability to try various eye ball placements and then spend way too much time weighing the pros and cons of each image.  Personally, I liked the eyeball placement shown on the bottom left, but I decided it was a little too scary and alien for a child's room.  Same thing with the cyclops eye on the bottom right.  The eyes high on the forehead in the upper right photo give the creature a non threatening expression, but maybe too silly?    

I finally decided on the eyes near the lips, to enhance the friendly baby rabbit look. A pink sock  with shiny red hearts was turned into a skirt, collar, and antenna bow.  Sugar, spice, and everything nice!

For my nephew I decided to use one of Brandon's worn out socks, since I thought a little boy would be most likely to appreciate the gross factor of cuddling up with his uncle's foot essence.  

What are little boys made of?  Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that's what little boys are made of!  I didn't have snails, but I did have snips.  Snips of an old neck tie, and snips of socks to turn into tusks and tongue.  And, the creature has a tail!    

My nephew's favorite color is yellow, so I incorporated yellow eyes.  And, for first time ever, I gave a sock creature a button nose.  An artist must follow her instincts.  

My plan is to have the kids come to my house and decorate the tree while the adults enjoy some eggnog. I think I will let the kids open their sock creature presents at the tree decoration party, when they won't be overshadowed by the heaps of real toys that are coming on Christmas day.  I have predictions about how they will be received by each.  We'll see!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

June, Did You Make This?

As a chicken owner, daughter of chicken owner, and friend of a legit Chicken Farmer, it's embarrassing to have to buy eggs at the grocery store!  But, since my flock consists of one very old and molting hen, and one very young hen, and everyone else's flocks have reduced productivity too, I've found myself sheepishly hiding cartons of eggs in my shopping cart.  But, look what I found in the nest box this week!  Isn't it a cute little egg.  

I'm sure it was put in the next box by June, but when I asked her about it she looked at me like I was crazy.  Or maybe she looked at me like she was crazy... it's hard to know who is the strangest, the chicken or the person asking the chicken questions.  

June and Mrs. Hall are getting along very well right now.  As long a June lets Mrs. Hall lead the way, she seems to have been forgiven for being newer, younger, fluffier, shinier, and better able to lay eggs.  Underneath Mrs. Halls mean instincts is a good heart, I'm sure.

I can't wait to expand my flock.  One egg a week is not going to satisfy our egg habit! 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Art Pie Guilt

Every year, the art department at the university where Brandon teaches hosts a open studio event where student work is displayed on the walls, in the hallways, and in each studio class room.  People from the community and the families of the students come to explore the building, attend the student award ceremony, and eat the free food.  The faculty in each studio area bring some snacks for guests that come to their studios.    

The ceramics studio has a pottery sale and chili, and other folks provide finger foods and Papa Johns pizza, but I bake pies for Brandon's room.  I'm in the pie baking mood this time of year, since I just practiced for Thanksgiving, and I love an excuse to make mass quantities of desserts.  In the photo above, you can see the pretty honey from a Kentucky bee keeper that I used in the pumpkin pie.  

There are other ingredients in these pies that I do not consider to be top quality, and for the first time, I had awareness and misgivings about this.  I bought Pillsbury crusts because I'm lazy baking six pies is feasible on a work night if I save the time of making my own crusts, and its been my experience that only pie crust connoisseurs would even notice the difference.  Actually, the Pillsbury crusts turn out reliably well each time, which is not something I can say for my own crusts.  As I was unrolling the crusts to make the pumpkin pie, I glanced at the ingredient list and saw that these crusts have hydrogenated lard.  Uh-oh.  I didn't even realize that lard could be hydrogenated.  I felt bad putting my pretty pie filling in poisonous crust.     

I did use real butter in the chocolate pie filling instead of a cheaper hydrogenated margarine, but I didn't use butter from pastured cows because I'm cheap so I could save some money.  I also didn't use organic ingredients or pasture raised chicken eggs for the same reason.  I have a little guilt about this.  I always have a little guilt about chocolate pie anyway, since the main ingredient is white sugar.  So, I'm feeding innocent strangers insulin spiking sugar pie with factory farmed ingredients in a toxic crust!!  I need to stop reading nutrition information on the interweb because it's ruining pie for me and making each pie cost three times as much and take three times as much effort to make!

At least the apple pie has real apples, right?  Not organic apples though.  I'm such a cheapskate.  

I felt like putting a warning label on my pie (Beware, Hydrogenated Lard in Crust), or hovering over my pies warning people of the dangers.  Knowledge is a terrible thing.  

To fuel my guilt even more, I made an apple crumble pie for use to eat at home, and made the crust myself, and used the expensive butter.  In my defense, I did practice using the food processor to make this crust, in the hopes that I can perfect a faster technique, and next year make better quality crusts for all the pies.

I know my guilt is self imposed, because the folks at the open studio were scarfing down pizza, crackers, and cookies from boxes, and if I were to mention that the pie crust has hydrogenated lard, cheap eggs, and grain fed butter they probably wouldn't have known why they should care.  Now that I know, I have some responsibility, right?  Even if the people who are eating it don't know or care?  

The pies were so pretty, and so fun to assemble, but my guilt prevented me from being super proud of them, even though they are the same pies I've made before, and every last crumb was gobbled up by the grateful guests.

We gobbled up the pie at home too, even though my home made crust wasn't quite as flaky as the dough boy's crust turned out to be.  When using the food processor it's easy to over mix, I think.  

So next year I need to budget for better pie ingredients, and more time to use those quality ingredients.  Or maybe I should just bring a salad!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Got Glitter!

After I created my wreath from from the wild grape vine that nearly pulled my house down last summer, I got it in the back of my mind that I should decorate the wreath in some fashion, and hang it on the house to provide some visual interest during this wintry time of year.  Well, it only took one trip down the dollar store holiday decor isle on my quest for paper towels and scotch tape, for the this little wreath decoration desire to bloom into a full blown glittery be-ribboned wreath creation project!  

After investing an entire five dollars on a giant roll of red and gold ribbon, I was more than committed, and found myself outside yesterday in the twilight hours pruning my cedar trees to generate some classic evergreen wreath material.  I filled  a box with ceder twigs, and brought it in the house.  I predicted that wreath decoration on this scale was going to be a messy business, but working inside where it was warm, and where there are refrigerated tasty beverages and snacks, was a more creative atmosphere than outside it the cold darkness.

The kittens were instantly intrigued by this aromatic box of outdoor material, and I had fun teasing them with cedar boughs and jingle bells, even though I knew I was only teaching them to torment my future Christmas tree.   

By the time I made it back outside, in the dark, to retrieve the wreath, the cats were just as committed to this project as I was, and gave the wreath a good sniff'n to make sure it was safe. Ditto, my scaredy cat, was a little on edge at the introduction of so many new toys to play with.  What's the catch?   

I had to clear away the materials from my recent sock creature sewing project in order to make room for the giant wreath on the dining room table, and by the time I was ready to really get started, Jamie was home so I could recruit him into the project.   

With both of the table leaves in, the dinning room table was just big enough for us to lay the wreath on the table and begin to poke the cut ceder branches into the grape vines. 

It really didn't take that long for us to arrange our cedar boughs in our chosen design.  We decided that the grape vines looked so cool, that we should let them be exposed for portions of the wreath, so we created three green nest-like areas, to highlight my dollar store decor.  It was not the best idea to put our beers and snacks on the table with the cedar branches, since later I had to pick twigs from the sour cream and Jamie almost drank three cedar needles in his beverage.  

I couldn't resist taking a photo of one of my saved vegetable twisty ties in use, just so I could prove to Brandon that I am not a hoarder, but a creative person who needs material.  See, without my twisty tie collection, the wreath my never have been born!    

We incorporated some dried lotus pods that I collected this summer, and when we were brainstorming for other wreath additives, Jamie saw the basket of sock monsters.  Eureka!  

The wreath was so big and awkward to hold, that it was hard to know how our design was progressing, but we were pretty sure it was totally awesome and that we may have future career's as a wreath decorating team.  High five, brother!

It didn't fall apart when Jamie carried it outside.  A good sign.

We didn't have a hook near the door where I wanted to hang it, so we fussed around with three sticks until we created a tripod to hang it from, which would be reminiscent of a peace sign.  Of course, I used twisty ties to hold the tripod together, and then covered the ties with a big bow.  Since I unknowing bought seventy feet of ribbon, I was quite generous.  Then we stood back to admire our result.  Hmmm....Uh... I hate to ask this... but, does it look a little bit like a disaster to you?  Yes.

So, we took it's picture with a flash so we could go back in the house to re-asses the design and warm up.  We decided that the problem was all the shaggy cedar boughs and the interior bow.  The wreath didn't look round enough, which seems to be what separates a wreath from a pile, so we removed the middle bow, and the branches that were hanging in the interior of the wreath, as shown in the photo above, which I took this morning.  Much better.  Turns out we may need to do an apprenticeship before we're ready to form that professional wreath decorator team, after all.  

The wreath is a bit large for our small house, maybe, and possibly the rocks we are using to prop up the front stick of tripod could be spiced up a bit.    But really, it was so much fun to make, I'm convinced I would think it looks cool no matter what.

The tripod is made from sticks I pulled from a beaver dam, so they've had all the bark chewed from them and you can see the beaver teeth marks if you look closely.  The grape grew wild in the back yard, of course, and the cedar boughs came from trees that I transplanted to our yard from my neighbors yard when they were about six inches tall.  The lotus pods came from a wetland I visited earlier this year, the sock creature was one I made and kept for myself.  

Of all the pieces of the wreath, though, my favorite are the sparkly red and gold dollar store pine cones.  I didn't realize I was such a sucker for glitter!  It's a good thing too, since I now have glitter on everything in the dinning room, so I'm sure I will get to enjoy the glitter well into the coming year.  It's been a long time since I've been infected with glitter.  I'm sort of excited about that.  

Now that I look at my front porch with the giant wreath by the door, I can see that my front railing could really use a coat of paint and some pretty green garland with red ribbon... oh... and maybe some of those dangling lighted ice sickles from the gutters... I may have to go back to that dollar store!  
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