Author Archive | Erin Darling

Skimming the Cream

There are many dairy products out there that line the walls of supermarket refrigerators, but all the different milky makes and models come from one place: milk!

It’s easy to make your own skim milk, whole milk, half and half, cream and heavy whipping cream from raw milk right from your local farm.  Once you get your fresh dairy home, just leave it in the fridge overnight, or for 8 hours, and let the cream rise to the top.  Then, skim the cream off the top of the milk.  We drink milk from Jersey cows, and any given week we can get 2-4 cups of cream from a gallon of milk; cream-tastic!

In order to manage this farm-centric milk method, we do not search through an aisle of different colored containers and differently stamped expiration dates.  The tools that I use are:
–    Containers for the milk (I use glass jars re-purposed from old bottles of Golden Glen Creamery milk)
–     A screwdriver, to loosen the lid of the jar
–    Measuring cups or a ladle
–    A funnel
All the dairy products we glean from this gallon of raw local milk are farm fresh and fantastic.

Here is a little video I put together that shows how easy it is to skim the cream off your own milk. At the end, I even threw in a quick little dessert perfect for the summertime…especially summer in the Pacific Northwest where cherries are abundant.  This dessert calls for no sugar: just make some whipped cream and dollop it on top of your fresh, cut cherries (strawberries, peaches and other fresh fruit make delicious substitutes, as well). The richness of the whipped cream and the sweetness of the fresh fruit leave you wondering how anyone could choose an artificial sugar overdose when presented with such a sweet and balanced alternative.

A note on raw milk and freshness: you can get raw milk from local health food stores (locally, Marlene’s carries a couple brands), but I have found that the milk loses a special quality by traveling those first few days.  After raw milk has been allowed to sit in the fridge for a week and a half to two weeks, it’s still drinkable (i.e. doesn’t smell or taste sour), but the creamy parts of the milk tend to separate and ball up a little.  I find this texture quite unappealing. I prefer the farm-fresh milk; and, if I ever think we won’t use up the rest of our gallon by week’s end, I’ll flip through my cookbooks for a recipe that calls for a lot of dairy, or transform the milk into yogurt.

We pick our milk up each week from Meadowwood Farm, where they milk their Jersey cows daily!

By ekwetzel
2010-07-05

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Little Green

Little Green (acrylic on canvas)

This is my latest painting. I had the idea of titling it Little Green because I was listening to Joni Mitchell while painting it, but the name seemed perfect because the painting arises out of my love for sustainable, local farming.  The more I learn about the practices of big meat factories, the more dedicated I become to the “localvore” movement.

 Sea Breeze Farm is one place that does meat production right.  The farm is on Vashon Island, WA.  Their animals are free-range, their fields are gentle on the environment, and their people are friendly and full of life.  I wish there were more places like this to make it easy to eat delicious food that does not put one in a moral dilemma. I sent this painting to their restaurant, La Boucherie, this week as a piece of fan art. I know I’m a geek, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Website for Sea Breeze Farm: www.seabreezefarm.net
For more information about eating locally in your neighborhood, check out: www.localharvest.org

Many thanks to Stephen Proctor for the photography.

 By ekwetzel
2010-06-28

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Lemon Meringue Pie

One of the reasons I started this blog was to occupy my time in a productive way while my hours were reduced at work. Well, my job has been pretty busy as of late, and this blog has suffered, as had my time in the kitchen; however, I have had many ideas stewing that I’ve wanted to share with you.

For today, I will share with you my love of lemon meringue pie. Lemon meringue pie is such a light and sweet desert, I’ve always thought of it as a summer dish.  In honor of the first day of summer, here is my lemon meringue recipe, from the pages of Better Homes and Garden’s Cookbook, 1962 Edition.

My favorite part of lemon meringue pie has always been the peaks on the meringue.  It’s such a naughty love; while you can get away with sneaking a bit of the frosting off a cake, as soon as you break off a peak for a little pre-pie glee, the evidence is undeniable on the leftover landscape.

In addition to the recipes, here are a few tips, from my experience:

  • Make sure the pie has cooled thoroughly before serving. Nothing ruins a great lemon meringue pie like getting overanxious and cutting into it before it has had a chance to cool and thicken. If you cut too soon, the lemon filling will be too runny and will not hold its shape.
  • With the extra bits of pastry, make tarts. Just fold the pastry over a bit of jelly, and seal it the edges with a fork. Bake on a cookie sheet at 450° until golden brown.
  • Goes great with sweet ice tea!

9-INCH PLAIN PASTRY SHELL

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons cold water

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour & salt. Cut in shortening with pastry-blender or blending fork till pieces are the size of small peas.
  2. To make pastry extra tender and flaky, divide shortening in half.  Cut in first half ill mixture looks like corn meal. Then cut in remaining half till like small peas.
  3. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the water over part of the flour-shortening mixture. Gently toss with fork; push to one side of bowl.
  4. Sprinkle next tablespoon water over dry part; mix lightly; push to moistened part at side. Repeat till all is moistened. Gather up with fingers; form into a ball.
  5. On lightly floured surface, flatten ball slightly and roll 1/8 inch thick. If edges split, pinch together. Always roll spoke-fashion, going from center to edge of dough. Use light strokes.
  6. To transfer pastry, roll it over rolling pin; unroll pastry over pie plate, fitting loosely onto bottom and sides. Trim ½ to 1 inch beyond edge; fold under and flute.
  7. Prick bottom and sides well with a fork-n-no puffing as shell bakes. Bake in a very hot oven (450°) till pastry is golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

LEMON MERINGUE PIE

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Dash salt
1 ½ cups hot water
3 slightly beaten egg yolks
½ teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup lemon juice
1 9-inch pastry shell
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

  1. In saucepan, mix 1 ½ cups sugar, cornstarch, all-purpose flour and salt. Gradually blend in water. Bring to a boiling over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium; cook and stir 8 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  2. Stir small amount of mixture into egg yolks; return to hot mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low; cook and stir; cook and stir 4 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
  3. Add lemon peel and butter. Gradually stir in 1/3 cup lemon juice. Cover entire surface with clear plastic wrap; cool 10 minutes. Now pour into cooled pastry shell. Cool to room temperature (about 1 hour).
  4. For meringue, beat egg whites with 1 teaspoon lemon juice, till soft peaks form. Gradually add 6 tablespoons sugar, beating till stiff peaks form and sugar is dissolved.
  5. Spread meringue over filling, sealing to edges of pastry. Bake in moderate oven (350°) 12 to 15 minutes or till meringue is golden. Cool thoroughly before serving.

By ekwetzel
2010-06-21

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Unique Interior Design Finds

Can’t a girl dream about the things she would buy for her home if she had infinite resources?  This one does!  I’d like to share with you some of my favorite finds, as of late.

METAL LEAF HANGING LIGHT
from Overstock.com

In a sea of Tiffany lamps arranged in varying degrees of predicable monotony, this simple metal lamp stood out to me.  It adds detail and class without being kitschy.  I’d prefer it if there was a design on it other than leaves (I’ve not a big leaf person), but the idea of the lamp really grabs me.  I love how it strikes me as a unique lamp, even though the concept is so simple and unobtrusive.

ART DECO WALLPAPER
from Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpaper

I like this wallpaper because it embodies what are era pictures when we think of the 1920s.  When I showed it to Mr. Wetzel, I knew he’d like it because it goes hand in hand with the designs found in the Bioshock video game.  Bradbury & Bradbury has several different wallpaper choices, but this one is my favorite because it has an intricate design, the colors are rich and classic, but the hue is muted and understated.

LITTLE FIELD OF FLOWERS
from PlushPod
rug by Nanimarquina

If I had a million dollars, I would buy this rug.  Since we’re talking about imaginary money, I might as well say that if I had any amount of imaginary money that would cover the cost of this rug, I would purchase it.  I have been enthralled with this piece of art for years.  I love the idea of burying my toes n a field of Beatles-esque red flowers.  The rug is so playful, so romantic, so enticing.  Nanimarquina, if you want me to review your product (free of charge, of course) I’d be happy to give you free advertising on my blog for a year!

By ekwetzel
2010-03-29

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Eating in Austin

Mr. Wetzel and I found ourselves in the Austin, TX area last weekend, and we enjoyed tasting the local cuisine.  Here is a review of some of the places and tastes that we experienced.

Mr. Wetzel at Chuy's

CHUY’S
www.chuys.com

This eatery is a 50’s diner in style and Mexican in cuisine.  The décor was colorful.  The service was polite, fun and fast, despite a very busy crowd.

The food was delicious.  Our tortilla chips were light, thin and tasted like they had been freshly made.  I especially loved the creamy jalapeno dip that was brought out with them.  The refried beans that came with the meal tasted fresher than any other restaurant refried bean that I have tried.  Mr. Wetzel had the crispy tacos, and I had Chuy’s Special enchiladas, special because they are blue corn tortillas laid flat like pancakes and layered with cheese, chicken and toppings.  We drank water.

  • Superb meal.
  • Personable and attentive service.
  • Lively and colorful atmosphere.
  • Highly recommended!

Tres Banditos from El Chico's

EL CHICO’S
www.elchico.com

Outside of Austin, Mr. Wetzel and I searched google maps for a local restaurant with good ratings, and El Chico’s stood out from the crowd.  Once we arrived, I got the feeling that we had walked into a local restaurant chain.  The service was good and attentive, but seemed forced and rigid.  The atmosphere was festive, but calmer, and the crowd seemed more like a mix of regulars, families, and singles catching a drink after work…the same type of feeling that I get from a crowd at Red Lobster or The Olive Garden.

The food was good, but seemed more processed than the Chuy’s meal we had eaten the day before.  The refried beans and chips were tasty, but not as fresh.  Overall it was a good experience, but not a great one. If you have the option to try a local, unknown restaurant instead and feel a little adventurous, you won’t miss out on anything by skipping El Chico’s, other than a predictable experience.

  • Happy with the meal.
  • Good service; very professional.
  • Quaint and festive atmosphere.
  • Recommended…but not over Chuy’s.

HOME SLICE PIZZA
www.homeslicepizza.com

Granted we were there during SXSW, but this place was packed!  The pizza joint is located in the heart of “Weird Austin,” on South Congress Avenue.  The staff was mostly energetic young girls around college age, and they all seemed a punkier version of Seattle’s independent coffee shop baristas.  The atmosphere was energetic and noisy, but warm and inviting; the décor was vibrant and moody.

Mr. Wetzel and I split toppings on a pizza: he had pepperoni (grilled chicken, his favorite, was not available) and I had mushrooms and black olives.  I ordered a pint of Live Oak Seasonal amber lager, from the tap, and Mr. Wetzel had a grape soda, free of high fructose corn syrup.  Our taste buds rejoiced.  The pizza was thin and tasty, not too greasy, and a little crispy.

  • Just thinking about the meal makes me wish I could go back.
  • Personable and attentive service.
  • Edgy atmosphere.
  • Highly recommended!

By ekwetzel
2010-03-22

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I Made You This Mixed CD

Photo courtesy of Stacy Wagoner

I love mixed CDs. I love making them, and I love-love-love receiving them.  While burning an entire cd has its copyright complications, I believe that mixed cds are one of the best ways to introduce new music and create die-hard fans of new bands.  Mixed CDs are responsible for introducing me to many of my musical loves: David Bowie, Belle and Sebastian, They Might Be Giants, and the Weakerthans.  These bands are the ones I seek out in concert, the bands for which I own multiple cds, and the bands that I include in the mixes I make for others.

A well planned mixed CD has a haunting ability to move you from one deep emotion to another, or tell a deep story about the mental development of the compiler from beginning to end.  I just participated in a massive CD Exchange with a dozen or so of my friends.  The playlist for my contribution is below. I titled this compilation “Struggle Makes Us True” and included the following insert with the CD:

What we fight for.
How we respond to hardship.
Where we turn for help.

These are the things that define our identity. It takes suffering to build character, and it also takes hard times to reveal who’s true, and who’s just a fair weather poser. These songs are about people who are true through and through, who stick it out and see it to the end, and who develop into stronger, brighter, deeper people in spite of their struggles.

^_^ And there are some songs that just go really well with the other songs.

Enjoy!
Erin Wetzel

PLAYLIST:
Breakable by Ingrid Michaelson
End of the Movie by Cake
Parentheses by The Blow
First Day of My Life by Bright Eyes
Queen Bitch by David Bowie
The Freest Man by Tilly and the Wall
Anyone Else But You by The Moldy Peaches
If the Stars Were Mine by Melody Gardot
Naturally by Middle Distance Runner
Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel
Homesick by Kings of Convenience
Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes by Beck
Ahead of the Curve by Monsters of Folk
Watermark by The Weakerthans
Writer’s Block by Peter Bjorn and John
Objects of my Affection by Peter Bjorn and John
Revolution by Grandaddy
Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra
New Day by Kate Havnevik

[On a personal note, I know I took a long break from blogging. My apologies!  I have been sick with the flu.  But, I am all better now.  Halleluia!]

By ekwetzel
2010-03-16

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Budgeting 103: Be Faithful

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

Some additional guidelines to help you stick with your budget…

Find Balance. Once or Twice a month, balance your accounts with bank records.  Go through your bank record and credit card statement and mark off the entries in your Budget Binder.  I like to make a note of the date each time I do this task and use a different color highlighter to make the section stand out.  Doing this check will help you make sure you don’t forget payments for auto-withdrawals or lost receipts.

Pay Off the Cards. If you have a revolving balance on a credit card, don’t use your card to pay for things until you have paid off your revolving balance.  This will force you to use the money in your checking account and remove the temptation of accessing the entire available balance on your card.  This habit is key to getting and staying out of debt.  Don’t spend what you don’t have.  You only will end up paying for it more in the long run.

If you find yourself tempted to spend on credit, step back and ask yourself why you want to purchase the thing in question.  Will you be fine without it?  If you need to, call a friend or partner before making the purchase so that they will hold you accountable.

Cut the Cards. As you pay off your cards, simplify your financial life and get rid of extra credit cards.  Mr. Wetzel and I only have 2 credit cards (one in each of our names, so that we’re both gaining a positive credit history), 1 store credit card and a debit card.

Cash counts! Never treat cash like its money already spent.  Cash always counts.  If you buy something with cash, make sure to save the receipt or note the purchase in your Budget Binder as soon as possible.  Save your change, as well.  If you put all your spare change in a jar, you’d be surprised how handy it can be on a rainy day.

Wish Lists & Shopping Lists. The best way to thwart impulse spending is to set goals for the things you want to purchase and then save up for them.  If you have an attractive goal ahead of you, you are less likely to blow your money on something you don’t really care about.  Currently, I have an ice cream maker on my wish list.

Shopping lists are handy on a day-to-day basis because they keep you from small impulse buys at the store.  If you see something at the store that isn’t on your list, consider writing it down for the next shopping trip.

Accountability. Tell someone what your budget goals are and ask them to check on your progress.  If you are budgeting with a partner, your companion doesn’t count!  As a couple, you need another couple or another individual to hold you accountable.  Telling others what your goals are also helps clear the air of needless spending; if you and your friends are both trying to get out of debt, you can think of cheaper ways to spend time together and it will help all of you out in the long run, whereas lack of communication too often serves only Mr. Visa, Madam AmEx and Master Card.

By ekwetzel
2010-02-04

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Budgeting 102: Set Your Course

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

What spending categories do you have?  How much do you need to budget in each area? Think of these categories separately instead of lumping them together with all of your earnings and spendings.

The Budget Binder & Individual Account Pages. Once you know how much you are bringing in and how much you are spending, you can sit down and face your spending habits.  Find a way to balance your budget by continually re-examining your needs and your wants.  Decide on a goal to spend for each category: groceries, car payment, rent, etc.  Finally, create a Budget Binder to help you keep track of your spending on a day-to –day basis.

The Budget Binder works in the same way that a checkbook does, except the Budget Binder has a page for each spending category.  We call these “individual account pages.”  Before learning this trick, Mr. Wetzel and I would have spending goals for different areas of our life; however, it was impossible to keep track of our actual spending and to hold ourselves accountable to our goals until we used the individual account pages.

Sample Individual Account Pages: download from Google Documents. These are some sample pages that we have found useful.  Adapt the pages to your own needs, adding or subtracting categories as needed: View on Google Documents

How It Works. When you get paid, disperse the funds available for each of your accounts onto each of the individual account pages.  When you spend money, subtract the funds from each of those pages.  Let’s use Amy as an example:

Amy earns $100. First she notes +100 on her “Earnings and Disbursements” page.  She disperses $50 to grocery, $25 to household and $25 to fun, noting +50, +25 and +25 on each page.  She then goes back to the “Earnings and Disbursements” page and notes -100 for a final balance of zero.

As Amy spends money, she subtracts the amount she spends from each of the individual account pages.  She tries to keep aware of how much money is left in each area of her budget.  It is easy for her to quickly check the funds for her budget because each category has an individual balance, instead of being lumped together into a total sum in her checkbook or online account balance.  If she doesn’t spend all the money in a given fund, she sets it aside and lets it accrue. You never know when you’re going to need a little extra dough, after all.

For example, Amy knew that a blockbuster hit was coming out on February 10th and that she’d want to go see it on opening night with her friends. So, she made sure to keep enough in her “Fun” fund so that she could go out to the theatre and catch a bite to eat from concessions.  In order to have enough money available, she skipped a few lattes during the week, but she reminded herself, “I don’t need a latte.  I don’t need to go to the movies, either…but I’d get much more pleasure out of going to the movies than drinking a few lattes.”

Remember: this is a Tool, not Torture! The whole point of budgeting is to be a good steward of your finances.  Create your first budget plan, and if you find that your spending habits continually break the budget, re-examine the budget.  Sometimes you’ll need to crack down on your spending habits, but sometimes you’ll need to change your budget to suit your needs.  Everyone has different desires, habits and goals, so everyone has a different budget as well.  The important thing is to find a budget that works for you, and then stick to it.

By ekwetzel
2010-02-03

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Budgeting 101: Know Thyself

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

You must be aware of where you start from.  Assess your current spending habits, as well as the attitudes you have about spending.

Keep track of all spending and earnings for 1 month. The easiest way to do this is to save all your receipts and all your pay stubs.  If you buy something that doesn’t have a receipt, or if you tip beyond what’s noted in the receipt, just write it down on a slip of paper, date it, and put it with the rest of your receipts.

Mr. Wetzel and I put all our receipts on a big glass plate by the front door until they are checked into our budget book (see Budgeting 102).  We have also been known to keep them in shoe boxes, tucked in our wallets or purses, or jammed into the pockets of a three ring binder.  Once we are through recording the receipts, we toss the ones for gas receipts and grocery trips, and save the important ones in a box.  We also hold onto all our monthly statements from credit cards or other accounts, as well as our pay stubs.

Don’t be materialistic. You are more than your possessions.  You do not need to be defined by what you have or what you buy.

One reason I like to watch the TV show Survivor is that it’s interesting to see Westerners come to realize the difference between needs and wants.  We need food, for example; but, we do not need a take-out pizza.  A baked potato (or plantain) will do.  Sometimes we use the things we buy or the act of shopping as a distraction to keep us from confronting things about ourselves or our lives.

Mr. Wetzel and I pray over our finances and try to grow in spirit, instead of growing in debt.  We have learned a lot about ourselves as we have given up things that we think we need.  By trusting God more and believing more in ourselves and our relationship, we spend less money yet find ourselves even richer than before.

By ekwetzel
2010-02-01

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Umbra Banana Split Banana Holder

The Umbra Banana Split Banana Holder is designed by Umbra Ltd.

[rating:5/5]

Form follows function follows form with this design!  I first saw this banana holder in the pages of Dwell magazine.  It is easy to use and easy to store.  I love the witty design, with the banana holder being reminiscent of the banana itself.   The design is unique and playful, without being kitschy.  It is made out of wood, which makes it feel more authentically crafted.

When I logged onto Umbra’s site (Nov 2009) to purchase this snazzy find, I was surprised to find an estimated $17.95 shipping on a $16.00 item.  So, I shopped around.  Amazon was selling it for 12.99, and the product qualified for super-saver shipping.  With such a witty design, I prefer to buy direct from the designer, but not at these prices!  Recommendation: shop around!

By ekwetzel
2010-01-28

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