Onion Rosemary Cough Syrup

I’ve been making onion syrup for my kids for years- just onion slices layered in a glass jar with sugar till all the juices macerate out. It’s amazing for breaking up phlegm in the chest and helping kids cough it out.

I’m trying a more common (and older) approach today and warming the onions on the stove in honey. I know raw honey should be better, but I don’t buy unpasteurized foods. I’ve included rosemary sprigs in the pot- rosemary is listed as being an antibacterial and a decongestant, besides being delicious. (Among many, many other properties.)

This will be great to have on hand for the cold and flu season- the toddler and preschooler have coughs that won’t break up, and onion boosts the immune system so hopefully this will help keep the rest of us healthy! I’ll either mix a spoonful into warm water or just let them lick it off a spoon.


Sourdough Pancakes

The first batch of sourdough pancakes were a success! Easy, too. In a NOT metal bowl, mix up 2 cups flour, 2 cups buttermilk, 2 tbsp sugar, and 1 cup unfed sourdough starter. (Using a recently fed starter will give you less tangy pancakes.). Cover and let it sit overnight. This is the sponge.

In the morning, mix together 2 eggs, 1/4 cup melted butter or vegetable oil, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1 tsp baking soda. Stir it into your sponge and cook on a hot, greased, griddle.

These were fantastic! Everyone had 3 or 4. Next time I’d add less salt- I used vegetable oil, and would cut it back to 1/2 tsp. If I used salted butter I’d cut it back to a 1/4 teaspoon. The original recipe was for waffles, with a side note to cook them on the griddle for pancakes. I’d cut the oil by half ( and use 2 tbsp) which is a normal amount of oil for pancakes.

This recipe made probably 25 4″ pancakes. Pancakes freeze great, though :). I can’t wait to try this with some whole grains!

The original recipe came from the King Arthur Flour website. Recipe is here.


Vanilla Yogurt, a No-Fail Updated Guide to Making It Yourself

It’s time to update my yogurt recipe.  I’ve found a method that, for me, is completely no-fail!

At it’s most basic, yogurt is a really simple process.

    1. Heat milk to kill pathogens.
    2. Cool milk to NOT kill yogurt cultures
    3. Add yogurt starter and flavor
    4. Keep it warm.


The recipe is here.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large pot
  • 2 clean mason quart jars with screw on lids (use wide mouth!  save your sanity trying to get that last scoop out!)
  • candy thermometer (needs to show between 100 and 185 degrees Farenheit)
  • small cooler that will hold the two jars
  • half gallon whole milk
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 8 ounces store bought yogurt

About the store bought yogurt: Yes, you can save yogurt from one batch to use in the next.  I never remember to do that, and it’s about fifty cents to pick up a little tub when I buy my milk.  Totally worth it for me.

Second, every recipe I’ve ever seen says that you need to use plain yogurt.  Lies.  I’m making vanilla yogurt, and I can use vanilla yogurt as my starter!  Just keep in mind that the store bought, flavored, yogurts are chock full of sugar and thickeners…those things will be in your final product.  Yeah, it’s just a little, but that might matter to you.  (It stopped mattering to me when my grocery store stopped carrying 8 ounce cups of plain yogurt- I didn’t want to buy a tub of starter and mess around with freezing it, then thawing it when I wanted to make yogurt.)  Whatever you get, check the container and make sure it has “live and active cultures.”  I’ve never seen a yogurt that didn’t carry this label- I’m not sure it would even BE yogurt if it didn’t have cultures in it?  But still- you need the bacteria to make new yogurt for you, make sure you’ve got ’em.  If you have a favorite brand of yogurt, try using it for your starter!  Different brands might use different cultures, and perhaps you have a preference for one over the other?  I’ve used Dannon, Tillamook, Brown Cow, Kroger…all made nice yogurts.

To start, get your milk and yogurt out of the fridge.  Leave the yogurt out to warm up, dump the milk into a big pot over low heat.  Stir it occasionally, and let it get about 185 degrees- you’ll see a skin forming on top, and you’ll see a good amount of bubbles around the edges.  This temperature will kill any bad bacteria in the milk.  (Yes, it’s a fresh carton of milk, yes it should be totally safe.  But do it anyway!)

Take the milk off the heat, and let it cool down so it won’t kill the good bacteria in your yogurt starter- you want it below 120, and 105-115 is perfect.

Stir in your vanilla, yogurt starter, and sugar.  A 1/4 cup of sugar will make a tart yogurt.  A 1/2 cup of sugar will make something my kids beg for.  And it’s still way less sugar than store bought!  I once compared the sugar in Jell-O pudding to my daughter’s favorite vanilla yogurt from the store- they.were.the.same.  (I let her eat pudding for breakfast that day.)  A half cup of sugar is 8 Tbsp, which is mixed into 8 cups of milk.  So that’s a half Tablespoon for every half cup serving of yogurt (1 and 1/2 teaspoons.)  It’s sweet, yes.  Probably treat level, but if you’re trying to show your kids that home made is yummy just like store bought…ease them into it.  You can use less next time!

The faster your yogurt sets up, the sweeter the final product will be as well.

So, let’s get it set up.  Once your milk has cooled, you stir in the sugar and vanilla and yogurt starter.  Don’t beat it silly, it will get frothy.  But do try and work the lumps of yogurt starter into the mixture, so that they can do their job.  Pour  your mixture into two very clean quarter mason jars, and screw on two very clean lids.  I find plastic lids in my canning section at the grocery store- if you don’t have a stash, get some!  (You’ll have about a half cup of the milk mixture left over- drink it while the kids aren’t looking, it’s delicious!)

Put your sealed mason jars into a small “igloo” cooler, and fill the cooler with hot tap water.  Shut the lid and walk away!  My yogurt is generally done in a few hours, perhaps 4?  Totally depends on how warm the house is, and how warm it stays in that cooler, and how warm the milk mixture was when you poured it in.  You can check it after 4 hours by picking up a jar and tilting it a bit- if it looks solid enough, it’s done!  But, if you mess around with the jars while they’re still setting up, they won’t set up properly.  When it’s done, stick it in the fridge!

Now, if you want greek yogurt, that’s easy.  Take your finished yogurt and dump it into a tea towel-lined colander over a bowl and let it drain in the fridge till it’s as thick as you like it.  If you leave it a really long time, you’ll get something that looks like cream cheese.  It’s delicious on french toast, but you’ve been warned!  Save the whey that drains out for your bread baking, or soaking grains in.  I haven’t messed around with making ricotta with it, I wonder if it would work?  It would be sweet, though, haha.

One word about your finished yogurt- it will begin to separate, and the whey will seep out.  It looks weird, it’s totally normal- you didn’t add gelatin or thickeners like the companies do.  Drain it off.  Also, if you stir your yogurt, it will get runny and won’t set back up again.  Again, no thickeners.  So serve it up in great big scoops, and enjoy!

The Final Basil Harvest

I planted a prodigious amount of basil this year.  Like, a LOT, a lot.  After a summer of pruning here and there to make pizzas and pestos, it was time to cut everything down and see what I had.
final basil harvest

(I apologize for the iPhone pictures- it’s just what’s close at hand when I’m covered in garden dirt!)

I peeled all the leaves off and dumped them into a sink of cool water and swished them around a bit to knock the dirt off, and let them sit a few minutes so it all could settle to the bottom of the sink.  I had to do it in 3 batches, but everything was spun through the salad spinner to get dry, and then made into pesto and frozen.  (And YES: my next batch of laundry smelled amazing.  Thanks.)

final basil harvest

I used this recipe, from Sustainable Eats, and loved it.  I normally use a recipe from my trust BHG (Better Homes and Gardens) cookbook, but any recipe that says:

“I can force about a cubic foot of loosely packed basil leaves (removed from the plant) into a cup and a half of oil.”

Nice.  THAT’S what I want to hear at the end of the growing season!

I portioned it all into quart-sized ziploc baggies and froze them flat- I ended up with 8 cups of pesto.  Not too shabby!



Processing Apples into Sauce, Butter, and Pectin

From start to finish, this is how I process a crate of apples.  Most  years I get 2 or 3 crates of apples from my mom’s trees, and this year I got some extras from a friend who didn’t have time to process a few boxes of “seconds” apples before they went bad.

  1. Empty the crate into the sink, weeding out any moldy or squishy apples.  For me, I am entirely OK with holes and little blemishes that I can cut out, especially if I am going to be cooking it for days into apple butter.  But if a worm hole grosses you out, pitch it.
  2. Fill the sink with cool water, to wash the apples.
  3. Slice apples into halves (or quarters if they’re huge) and fill a large stock pot.
  4. Add a few cups of water to the apples in the stock pot, and set on the stove to bring to a simmer.  Make sure it doesn’t boil dry, and cook 5 or 10 minutes till the apples can be pierced easily with a fork.
  5. Working in small batches, run the apple pieces and cooking water through a Sauce Master.  IF you do not have one of these machines, you can either peel and core the apples before cooking them down into sauce, or cook the chunked apples down and then force them through a colander.  (The latter is easier to do if you have an apple peeler.)

making applesauce and apple juice

6. Throw away the refuse (peels, seeds, stems).  Put the apple sauce puree into a lined colander, over a large bowl or pot.  Let it drain.
making applesauce and apple juice

7.  If you started with a mix of ripe and unripe apples, the juice that drains out can be considered pectin- it will be a thick, silky liquid.  I’ve never cooked with it, but this woman has very clear instructions.  At the very least, it could be cooked down into a delicious glaze for desserts, sauce for ice cream, or used as a syrup with sparkling water to make apple soda.  If you started out with very ripe apples, there will have been very little natural pectin remaining, and the juice that you’ve drained off can be brought to a boil, decanted into hot and sterilized quart jars, and processed in a water bath for five minutes to seal.  You MUST bring the juice to a boil before you can it, to kill off any germs.  I like this juice best when I mix a few different types of apples.

making applesauce and apple juice

8.  The drained apple sauce can either be brought to a boil, funneled into hot jars, and processed for 25 minutes in a hot water canner, OR you can put it in a crock pot (with the lid ajar and heat set to low) for a day or two until it is thick to your liking.  I prefer to add a bit of cinnamon or other “pie” spices at the end, to taste.  It can be spooned into pint or smaller jars, and processed 25 minutes in a hot water bath canner.  I have never used sugar in either my sauce or my butter, and have always felt it was plenty sweet.

making applesauce and apple juice


9.  Let your jars sit overnight on a towel, then check to make sure the lids sealed, remove the rings, and rinse everything off before storing the jars away in a dark and cool place.

Tomatoes at my House, From Seed to Kitchen

Every February or March, either my mom or I plant up a squillion or so tomato seeds in dirt trays in our greenhouses, and wait for them to sprout.  Once they’ve come up, we use a very careful method involving a teaspoon and a sharp pencil to pick up each little sprout and transplant it into a beer cup full of miracle-gro dirt.  (What do YOU call those red, 20 oz., Solo brand plastic cups?)

(These are actually basil starts, but you get the idea)
basil starts in the greenhouse

tomato starts in the greenhouse

We leave our army of tomato-seedling-filled beer cups in our green houses until they’re nice and big, and the weather has warmed up.  Once that’s happened, they’re transplanted outside.  This is normally in June or July.  This year, I took my biggest transplants and moved them to gallon pots in May and June, to give them bigger root systems before putting them in the ground.  Tomatoes can send out roots wherever their stems touch dirt, so I de-leaf the bottom half of the vine and bury it.

In years past, I’ve put my tomatoes in pots.  While lots of people have huge success with this (including my mom) I never do.  That’s probably because I’m not the most conscientious waterer, and plants in the ground are more forgiving about water since they can find their own.  Now, I put them in the ground, again burying the bottom part of the stalk so I can get a stronger root system.

I discovered my favorite staking method this year, and it surprised me: I found plastic “bamboo” stakes in the shed, left behind by a previous owner.  They’re about a 1/4 inch thick, and four feet tall.  I stuck them in the ground behind the transplants, and used a rubberized wire to twist-tie the tomato vines to the stakes as they grew taller.  Next year I’ll remember to snip off the top of the vine once they reach the top of the stakes, but even without this they did great this year and nothing fell over.

We had such a cold, late, summer this year that none of my large tomatoes (roma and Early Girl) ever turned red.  Not even close.  I got a handful of yellow pear cherry tomatoes, but nothing to write home about.

tomatillos and green tomatoes

When the Fall rains started, I harvested every tomato I could find.  I put all the big tomatoes into a cardboard box, in two layers with some newspaper in between.  I intended to just store them in there until I used them in curries or salsas, or found recipes to use them in.  As of right now, three weeks after that harvest, fully 3/4 of my big tomatoes have ripened and are delicious!  Totally surprised me- next year, I’m going to harvest tomatoes as soon as they’re full-sized and let them ripen inside.  I’ll get ripe tomatoes all summer, and the plants will focus on the next crop of tomatoes when I remove the most mature fruit.

early girl tomato

What I’ve not eaten, I’ve been throwing into gallon ziploc bags and putting them in the freezer for later.  From what I’ve read, I’ll be able to just thaw them and the skins will slide off.  Then, I can cook them into quick sauces, soups, salsa, etc.

sweet 100 tomatoes

green tomatoes in the sink

The cherry tomatoes have not done well ripening on the counter, for some reason.  The ripe and almost ripe were picked too late after the rains started, and they’d already split open and were mealy.  Luckily, I’ve been on a pickle kick lately and have a new favorite brine.  In the end, I had two gallons of green cherry tomatoes and they are all taking a bath in a sextuple batch of that brine.  I’m pretty stoked.  (They’ve been fermenting three days now, they have four more to go before they go into the refrigerator.)

Purple Monster Smoothie


Managed to put almost all the rainbow colors in here. I thought about adding a tomato to get our red, but took pity on the kids 🙂

6 oz peach yogurt
1/2 cup concord grapes
1/4 banana
1/2 cup oatmeal
3 Tbsp. Vanilla pudding powder
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 kiwi, peeled
1 Bosc pear, halved and cores
Water to thin down