pinecone crafting for the craftless

Someone accused flattered me once and called me “crafty.”

She apparently was looking into my heart, and not at the evidence.

But I try, gosh darnit. I try.

We’ve been at my Mom’s in the Coachella Valley this past week and I’ve been looking for fun things to do with the kids during the 90 degree days that won’t leave my cold-loving Montana brood bored and stuck in air conditioning for too long. (The pool’s been off-limits this week as they clean it, turn the heat on and prep it for the “high season,” which in the desert is end of October through March).

We’ve had bubble blowing contests.

Races around the trees in the field behind the house.

We’ve gone sidewalk chalk crazy on the patio.

Had ballon tosses.

But our favorite thing to do is go on nature walks to the duck pond just a stone’s throw from Grammy’s backyard … our best adventure to date.

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(Although today we head to the Living Desert Zoo and are hoping to see the zookeepers feed giraffes so … it may not stay in the lead for long).

On one of those walks, the kids “discovered” pinecones different from the ones at home. These are full and round and open. They are just gorgeous. (The ones at home are gorgeous, too. But they stay pretty closed with our cool cool nights.) Our quest undoubtedly became a game and a race to see who could pick up the most pinecones. Although we piled them into one pile, so no one was the winner. ūüôā

But what to do with a stroller full of pinecones?

Why … make Christmas ornaments, of course.

I mean, Costco is already selling ribbon, O’Mamas is already doing a toy giveaway, it only makes sense to make ornaments in October, doesn’t it?

So after a run to the local pharmacy to get glitter and glue, here’s what’s left of our beautiful pinecones.




Yeah …

We’re not as crafty as we dream.

But it was fun.

And after two days we’re still finding glitter in our hair.


pantry basic – the sourdough starter

Someone was bragging to me once about the sourdough starter he and his wife had gotten from his maternal grandmother that was almost 100 years old, and they’d been using it for bread for years.

That’s cool.

But guess what … whether your starter is 5 days old, 5 months, 5 years or 500 … it’s all sourdough starter. ¬†We make a lot of sourdough stuff:¬†Sourdough bread.¬†Sourdough pancakes.¬†French Toast.¬†¬†Crackers. We make sourdough English muffins and sourdough cinnamon rolls (for special occasions). ¬†There’s always some dough rising. ¬†Or sourdough fermenting. ¬†Somewhere in our kitchen.

And I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Our starter was 6 years old, until I forgot to feed it for 3 weeks (left it on the counter when we went out of town and forgot to tell the house sitter about it).  So now, our start is about 6 months old.  And I started a new one a few days ago so I could show you how easy it is.

Here’s the kicker … MAKING A SOURDOUGH STARTER IS EASY! ¬†(And maintaining it is even easier.)

And to tell you the truth … if it was difficult, I probably wouldn’t do it. ¬†Life can be challenging enough. ¬†I don’t really want my pancakes to be hard.


But on this real food journey, I’m learning more about more about why fermenting the flour … making it “sour” … actually makes it more digestible and easy on our bellies to process and absorb all the goodness in the wheat (or spelt or rye or fill in the blank with whatever grain floats your boat).

And up to this point, I’ve found sourdough easier to manage than sprouting grains. ¬†(Sprouting can take a few days … souring takes a few hours … and I can wrap my head around planning a few hours ahead, but still struggle with planning meals more than a few days ahead. I’m working on it, bt that’s where I am today.)

Here’s what you need for a sourdough starter:


  • All purpose flour.
  • Filtered water.
  • Glass jar with a lid. (At least one and a half pints, but preferably a quart.)

That’s it.

Oh … and you need about five days.

It takes about five days to get things grooving and growing and ready for your first stack of sourdough pancakes. ¬†But if you start this today, you’ll be loving life (and impressing your loved ones) on Sunday with a fresh batch of yum.

I’ve read somewhere that you need to use whole wheat flour to start the process. ¬†I haven’t had that experience. ¬†Organic all purpose flour works just fine.

So …

You ready for this?


In a glass bowl, combine 1/2 cup of flour with a little less than 1/2 cup of filtered water until all of the dry flour is absorbed and you’re left with a thick sticky dough. ¬†Pour the contents into your glass jar (scrape the bowl and get all the last remnants). ¬†Cover the container and put it in a place in your kitchen where the temperature is consistent and maybe even a little warm.


You will likely see a few bubbles starting to form. ¬†And maybe it smells a little “sour?” ¬†The things are good. ¬†It means that wild yeast from the air has taken residence in your mixture and good things are starting to happen.

Add 1/4 cup of flour with a little less than 1/4 cup of water to your container and whisk it up.  Again, you want the new flour to be incorporated fully into the mix.



This is when things go from good to better. ¬†Your starter will be nice and bubbly. ¬†It will be thick. ¬†It will smell good and sour-y. ¬†And it will have “grown” (maybe even as much as doubled in size). ¬†Very exciting stuff is happening.

We’re on REPEAT: ¬†add 1/4 cup of flour and a tiny bit less than 1/4 cup of filtered water to your container. ¬†Again, whisk it up. ¬†It won’t be easy to whisk (you can also use a fork). ¬†But get all that flour and water super incorporated. ¬†Cover again. ¬†And set aside until …


REPEAT day three’s activity. ¬†1/4 cup of flour. ¬†1/4 cup of filtered water. ¬†Whisk. ¬†Cover. ¬†Wait 24 hours.


You’ve got bubbliciously fermented sourdough starter begging to be made into something.


So now it’s up to you … use it!

But after you use it, replenish it with equal parts flour and water (I prefer the consistency of starter that has just a tiny bit less water than flour, but this is a personal choice.)

And keep it alive, because if you are good it your starter, it will be good to you in return.


Every other day (or every three days), add a 1/4 flour and 1/4 filtered water.  Whisk.  Cover.  And set in the sourdough starter home in your kitchen.

Here’s ours … the old and the new … souring together.


Just waiting for me to start a new batch of sunny sourdough crackers (with cheese ¬†and truffle salt this time … because they’re for grown-ups :).

By the way, Remember how I told you a few paragraphs ago how I let our starter die and had to start a new one?  Well, these starters are really very hardy.  And if I had just put the starter in the fridge while we were gone, I would have come home to starter ready to be fed again and after just a day or two be ready for bread.

I should tell you that after two or three days, a clear liquid may form on the top of your start. ¬†That’s okay. ¬†In fact, it’s just the natural alcohol separating from the wild yeast. ¬†Clear liquid is fine. ¬†Just stir it back into the starter and keep on doing a great job.

IF, however, that clear liquid is not clear, but cloudy or pinkish¬†… throw it out … your starter has spoiled and you must start again.

Let us know how your sourdough adventures go … and have fun starting experiments in your kitchen!



31 things: Mama’s from Texas


I’m back on board with The Nester’s 31 Day Challenge. I missed yesterday, and there’s a good chance I’ll miss many more. I’m alright with that, though!

Today, the third of October, we had our first big snow. I can honesty say that this is the first year I haven’t dreaded it.

What I want my boys to know is:  Mama is from Texas. My idea of outdoor recreation used to be floating in the river with a cold drink in hand. Once in high school we got ONE inch of snow, and school was cancelled for 3 days.

I laugh at that now when I pass the elementary school down the road, and the kids are having recess in snow boots and ski gloves. Soon enough my boys will be doing the same thing, and they’ll never know any different.

This whole cold weather and snow thing is in their blood.

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True story… my oldest got bundled up and headed outside as soon as he could today and kept saying “I’m just so, so, so happy Mom!”. The kid LOVES the cold weather. In fact, the only time he ever complains about the temp is in the summer when it is “so hot” at a whopping 80 degrees. When we head to Texas to see family… forget it… the kid hardly wants to step outside.

It’s true my boys have changed me. Because they love the snow, it feels like I love the snow.

We’ve taken the plunge and made sure they have good snow gear, and that had made a world of difference. It softens the blow that I only have to buy the things once and then they will be passed down to my 2 year old.

Jeanne always says (not sure who she heard it from) there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. I must say I’m beginning to agree (unless of course it’s negative 20… Then you’ll find me curled under a warm blanket with hot tea by the fire).

Until tomorrow,

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the kindergarten quandary

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Abby here, confessing that I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not write about this.

Part of me feels like this should be an easier decision, and I need not rely on other peoples opinions and experiences. But the other part of me feels like I’m running in circles, and I’m hoping maybe some of you have really wrestled with the same issue…

So here’s where I’m at: I’ve got a wonderful 4 year old son who will be starting kindergarten next year.

For the last 2 or 3 years, I’ve been pretty amped up about homeschooling. This really wasn’t something up for debate. I was excited about it. I researched, looked into the local co-op, read blogs and books, and asked a million questions.

Now here we are, with just one short year before kindergarten, and I feel stumped. I’ve felt less and less adequate to homeschool the closer we get to kindergarten, yet a huge part of me still longs to do so. I love the idea of it, I’m just not sure about the reality of it.

As for most parents, the three obvious options here are homeschool, private school and public school.

Private school wasn’t something we considered until our church began meeting a wonderful private school here in town. Getting to know the school and some of the students and teachers has definetely warmed me up more to this idea. There are just so many factors…. a few being the price, that fact that it takes a classical education approach and then also the rumors that there is very little emphasis on play for the students. One advantage to this private school is their kindergarten program is a 1/2 day, which I think could be a good transition into school for my boy.

Then there is the cute little public school down the street, that every person I’ve met in Bozeman who knows anything about the school district here says I am CRAZY to not send my child there. There is usually only one class per grade, and I have heard nothing but amazing things about the place. To top it off, my son just started a neighborhood soccer team, and every single boy on his team will be in the kindergarden class next year. Many of the parents have older children already in school, and they think the world of that place.

But then I’m back to square one in that in a perfect world I really do think I’d like to homeschool… I think.

So… I guess this is just a brain dump, but I would love and appreciate any advice. Surely I am not the only one who has struggled with this….


“It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” – T. Roosevelt

With that idea in mind … to teach our kids to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature … we went on a great adventure last week.

A 250 mile road trip to Yellowstone National Park.

Two moms.

Four kids (which means four car seats.)

A rented Suburban.

Way too many snacks (because with four kids, there never seem to be enough snacks).

And more than a little enthusiasm for 13 hours on the road!



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“The Park is just a howling wilderness of three thousand square miles, full of all imaginable freaks of a fiery nature.” – R. Kipling

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It’s also a good place to find a bench and relax.

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Note the lovely glare? ¬†It’s true … just because the dude is carrying a really fancy camera, there’s no guarantee he knows how to take a picture ūüôā

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Somehow … 13 hours, 250 miles, 35 bathroom stops, snack stops, nature walks, rock climbs and races …. we are all still friends and reminded just how lucky we are to live so close to this amazing gift.
Happy Monday!

i thought i was a genius

It’s Jeanne.

With a pathetic confession.

It’s been a few weeks since I made ice cream and the other night our little guy looked at me and said (in a tiny-little-about-to-turn-2-years-old voice ¬†“Ice cream…. Pwease … My favewit.”


(This is not my pathetic confession … but it says something when a toddler puts together his longest string of words to beg his mother for ice cream, yes?)

So I haven’t made ice cream recently. ¬†Not for any real reason. ¬†Mostly because I haven’t wanted to buy heavy cream from the grocery store because we’ve got a friend who shares the raw milk bounty from her dairy cow, and we have so much milk in the house right now, with beautiful wholesome cream on top, that I just feel like it would be a waste to go out an buy heavy cream.

But I don’t have a fancy milk separator.

We have a small kitchen and limited storage … we’ve definitely got enough stuff and I’m trying to simplify rather than multiply what takes up that precious space. ¬†I don’t really want to buy another bulky piece of kitchenware.

So I haven’t made ice cream.

And then all of a sudden this request is looming large every time I look into those baby blues.

“Pwease … My favewit.”

Which gets me thinking about how I might separate the cream from the milk we have.

Abstractly thinking about it.

Not really thinking about it.

I didn’t google anything.

I didn’t pull out the old homesteading books.

I just sort of had a thought about it and then filed it away didn’t really think about it again.

Until I woke up to light bulbs flashing in my brain … a real “EUREKA!” moment.

We have THREE cold drink dispensers. ¬†You know …the ones with a spout. ¬†Like for sun tea or something?? ¬†All I really need to do is pour the milk into one of the dispensers. ¬†Let it rest over night until the cream rises to the top and then siphon ¬†off the milk!



So I tell Abby this (mind you, as I’m saying it I’m prouder than a peacock) and she says “yeah, that’s pretty much all over the internet as the easy way to do it.” ¬†(I’m paraphrasing … I can’t remember her exact words because they were like knives to my bubblicious ego, which popped and left me deflated on the floor).

So …

Yeah …

I may not be the first one with the idea … but I’m happy to report that it worked!


Isn’t that pretty??

So today I’ll be making some ice cream… “Pwease.”

Happy Tuesday!

We’re linked up:

Kelly the Kitchen Kop

happy weekend


Admittedly, as a stay-at-home mom, most days seem the same, but just to make myself feel better I’ve decided to celebrate the fact that it’s Saturday.

For this wild and crazy celebration I thought I’d share the “best of the week”…. (If you don’t care about all that, promise me ((REALLY, PROMISE ME)) you will scroll to the bottom and watch the 18 minute video.)

First up, Most Pinned Post of the Week:
Sharpie Cups


Has anyone else tried these? ¬†Jeanne made these as party favors for her daughters’ birthday last spring, and ours are still going strong. ¬†I’m wondering if this would work with mason jars?? Can they withstand the heat?

Next up, Most Read Post of the Week:
Homemade Nutella

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Organic hazelnuts aren’t the most budget friendly food item out there, but as a special treat from time to time… YOU HAVE TO MAKE THIS! My pint sized mason jar lasted less than 24 hours, and I’m itching to make it again.

Favorite Post from the WWW:
Even Closer to Fine from Momastery


And finally, the most important part of this post! ¬†This video from Robyn O’Brien that you I’m begging you to watch.

She gives an incredible 18 minutes TedX talk on what exactly GMO foods are, and how they are destroying the American food supply and subsequently, our health. ¬†Please watch it and send to your friends and family!¬†Sorry the formatting is off… I tried to fix it, but had no luck.

Check our her website HERE, or you can also follow her on FACEBOOK or TWITTER.

an off day… in a good way

Overall, this summer was fast paced and full of fun, just like we like it.  We headed to Texas twice, had family here for a few weeks, did lots of gardening, a little hiking, a ton of park days, play dates and I even got to sneak away for an adults only camping trip.

We’re just home from our last trip, and this week we’ve spent lots of time hanging with Jeanne and her kids to try and get this ol’ blog in order. ¬†It’s actually been really fun and we’ve been cooking up a storm of new recipes to share in the coming weeks! ¬†The kids were troopers, and enjoyed a late night jammie party while us mamas wrapped up a few things.


With all the hustle and bustle, yesterday I realized we needed a day at home.

Part of what came with always being on the go this summer is I got sort of lax on what we were eating. ¬†Still (mostly) organic and stuff, but we’ve been making pancakes and pizzas and all sorts of fun stuff… often.

So to begin our day at home we had a smoothie for breakfast.  I just headed out to the greenhouse and grabbed some kale and a cucumber, and then added in some frozen cherries, an avocado, some local honey and raw milk


My youngest sucked it down, but my four year old took a little convincing. ¬†We’re all having to work at getting back in the groove.

The rest of the day consisted of lots of down time, making a gallon of pesto with basil from the garden, bike riding and getting ready for the food swap. ¬†For the food swap I brought tomatoes, basil, parsley, green peppers, tomato sauce, pesto and some grass-fed ground beef. ¬†I think I did pretty good taking home a huge spaghetti squash, some jam, a giant head of purple cabbage (that I can’t wait to ferment!), a bunch of orange beets, some red onions and an almond version of this homemade Nutella that Jeanne made (recipe coming soon!).

So I guess we didn’t technically stay home all day, but it was still so relaxing and refreshing. ¬†It was a great reminder that sometimes it’s best to just be…. ¬†I’m thinking we may need to do this at least once a week!

on becoming that girl who takes pictures of the sky

I have taken more pictures of the sky this week than ever before. The daily thunderstorms followed by a break in the clouds just at sunset have been breathtaking!

I’ve taken all these on my iPhone with no filter added, and my kids keep asking, “MOM!! Why are you pulling over the car AGAIN?!”

How can I not with views like this?

Even after living here three years, I hadn’t given much thought to the fact we live in the “Big Sky State”. ¬†I mean, technically isn’t the sky the same size everywhere?

I think I finally understand… you’ll see why.
Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman, Montana

it’s September and we’re freezing in Montana … and pickling, too.

I hope you’re having as much fun as we are in the garden this year. ¬†It’s been a bumper crop so far.

We’ve already eaten every last of our carrots. ¬†(We’re going to have to plant more next year.)

And broccoli. (Another crop we’ll need to expand next year … good thing we just added two more raised beds!)


We have too much zucchini that ripened all at the same time (and just as many left on the vine to ripen in the next week).


A lot of tomatoes …


¬†… and again, even more on the vine waiting to ripen.

A few pounds of cucumbers.

More than a few heads of garlic.

A good amount of basil.

And not enough peppers (It’s not easy to grow peppers in a raised bed in Montana … the nights are too cold and the season too short). ¬†But we were able to grow ONE (out of ¬†8 plants).

lone pepper

I’m re-thinking the strategy on peppers for next year. ¬†Does anyone have an easy how-to build a cold frame they’d like to share using old storm windows?

So now that we’ve harvested so much of our bounty, my brain is turning to food storage. ¬†Because we want to take advantage of all this goodness, but know we can’t eat it all before it goes bad and as much as I appreciate our compost bin, I don’t want to see this goodness wind up there. ¬†So what to do to preserve and store?


My hope is to preserve as much of the “freshness” as we can with zucchini. ¬†We’re blanching an freezing most of the what we’ve plucked from the garden this year for use in stews and soups as the weather turns colder.

But blanching veggies that you’re ¬†going to freeze is a little different from blanching veggies you’re going to eat right away. When you’re blanching to freeze, do NOT salt the water. ¬†Salt will break down the cell walls and you’ll end up with mushy vegetables. ¬†And that’s not what we want. ¬†We want a bit of crisp fresh goodness in the midst of our winter. ¬†At least, that’s what¬†I¬†want. ¬†Maybe you like mushy zucchini?

Here’s how we’re doing it:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. ¬†Meanwhile, half-fill a large bowl with cold water and some ice to use as an ice bath. ¬†While the water comes to a boil, chop the zucchini into similar-sized pieces (rounds, squares, wedges … whatever shape you’re hoping to use in the coming months). ¬†For this batch (which is a soup-batch) I chose to chop them into 1-inch bits. ¬†Regardless of their shape, keep the size roughly the same. ¬†It will help ensure even cooking time when you go to use them.


Once the pot of water is at a rolling boil,¬†carefully add cubed or sliced zucchini (in batches if necessary). ¬†As soon as the skin turns “bright green” and the zucchini is a nice firm al dente texture (just about a minute for smaller bits, one to two minutes for larger chunks) use a slotted spoon to remove and add to the ice bath to stop the cooking.


From the ice bath, I move the zucchini to tray lined either with paper towel or a flour-sack towel and let drain for just a few minutes before I put them in Ziploc freezer bags that I lay flat to freeze.


IMG_1022 (NOTE: ¬†I feel funny using plastic for this food storage, but I haven’t found an alternative yet that works for freezing. ¬†And I don’t love what happens to summer squash in canning. ¬†If you have a suggestion, I would LOVE to hear it!)


Unlike my sister Teri, who gagged when I sent her the photo from above of our tomato-bounty :), I love tomatoes. ¬†(In her defense, she had a tomato soup incident as a 4-year-old that pretty much sealed her never-eat-a-tomato-even-ketcheup fate. ¬†I don’t want to tell you about it because it was gross. Needless to say … she doesn’t eat tomatoes.)

But as I said, I love tomatoes. Fresh, they are bright and sweet and perfect.  Heated, they get even sweeter and warmer and

Our littles love tomatoes. ¬†But even so … there are just too many in the garden this year to be able to eat them all fresh. ¬†I can only eat so many tomato sandwiches, caprese salads and ratatouille in one day. ¬†So what we can’t eat fresh, I’ve decided to turn into three staples we need in the kitchen all year long and then freeze.

I’ve already made 1 1/2 gallons of this Tomato Sauce (which I will use for pizza, pasta, meatballs, soup, etc). ¬†I’ve got enough tomatoes in the kitchen this morning to make another half gallon. ¬†When all is said and done, I’ll have up with three gallons in the freezer.

Taco Sauce. ¬†After we’ve got the tomato sauce stored, I’ll turn to taco sauce and do the same process. ¬†My goal is to have at least half a gallon of taco sauce in pint jars for easy use.

And then Tomato Paste … a recipe I’ll share when I have a chance to get some photos of the process. ¬†I just don’t love that most tomato paste comes in BPA-lined little cans. ¬†Tomatoes are so acidic. ¬†And often, recipes call for just a tablespoon or two of this burst of brightness so then you end up using just a little of the 2 oz can and the rest goes to waste. ¬†SOOOOO … I’m off to Owenhouse Ace Hardware for a 12-pack of 4 oz ball jars to prep for the tomato paste adventure.


We used This Recipe to make garlic dill pickles.


I’m going to have to plant even more garlic this year because I’m using so much what we harvested right now. ¬†I’ve used several head in the tomato sauce. ¬†I’ll use more in the taco sauce. ¬†I’ve been on a bit of a hummus-jag these days. ¬†And whatever’s left of the garlic will end up combined with whatever’s left of the basil in a¬†pesto.

All this food-stuff … it gets me so excited for next year’s garden! ¬†I’m already making lists and plans. ¬†And we’re only about a month away from having to plant the garlic!

I need to make a seed order … STAT!