Making : Dried elderberries

We went to pick elderberries the other day, because they were ready.

I’ve always bought it dry,in small amounts, and without a food dryer I wasn’t sure how I should keep them.

A friend freezes them.  So I did that.  A few bags in the freezer. I put them in a cookie sheet for a little bit, and then put them in a bag.  Just like blueberries.

And the rest, I died them in the oven.

I put them in two cookie sheets, at 170 degrees (F), for about 11-12 hours.


And had lots of stems like these at the end.


And now, we are ready for winter… at least with the elderberries ready!





Making : apple cider

In the 17 years (almost to date) that we’ve lived in our home, there hasn’t been one summer that we haven’t said ” we should make apple cider with all of our apples” or something like that.

So this year, one day we went and rented an apple press and went for it.  We had so many, so many apples falling off the trees that we didn’t want to waste anymore.  This was mid August, and our apple trees were full, like I’ve never seen before.

We picked as many apples as we could, and we thought we could press in one day.

We started around 10 am.  Had everything prepared, sterilized, and ready to be working outside, with a beautiful (not too hot either) of a day.

The apple press, beautiful by and on itself.  Even before all the magic that it does.

We were so excited, we’ve never done it before.  We weighted all the apples, and I can tell you now, that we still haven’t added all the little notes where we wrote them in.  I will write that later here, when we do have it because it was a very large number of pounds as it turns out.

We have two kinds of apples, and also got some crab apples, and three other kinds we bought separate.

We cut, and cut.  All mixes of apples. No need to peel, core or anything.  We took the bigger bruises, and any bad parts we found, but it was pretty straight forward cutting.

We all took turns in our chores.

But Siena really loved the cutting part.

And Lucas the putting in the cut pieces.

And the watching of every part of the machine.

We all did.

And look at the beautiful colors…

So much fun!

And all the work paid off… delicious apple juice! So fresh… can’t get any fresher!

So much fun… all day long.

And we kept cutting.

Kept looking.

And pressing.

And we never tired of this beautiful color and delicious flavor.  Even with the different mixes of apples we were cutting at the moment, they tasted different.

We had so many apples that had falling from the night before and previous day.  but we also wanted to pick some more to try them without bruise (for once!), but also because we had the press and wanted to take advantage of it.

Without an apple picker, we’d go up the ladder and pick them.  but for those too tall to reach we got an idea.  Mark would shake the tree and we’d catch the apples in this blanket.  Perfect idea if the apples didn’t fall all over, and accidentally hit us.  So Lucas got a better idea yet!

Until, half way our day, we got smart and went and bought a fruit picker, since we didn’t know anybody who owned one.  Not only saved our heads for the day, but also, we thought that since we’ve only lived in this house for 17 years, with these huge apple trees that keep growing, we should probably own a picker and use it to get our apples from now on.  We are so glad we did.  Even in the few weeks we’ve owned it, it’s been nice to pick apples instead of eating those that have fallen.

During the day we had few friends stop by.  They helped us with the work, enjoyed some fresh apple juice, and took a jug or two of this so fresh juice they helped us press.

The day was almost gone when we were still pressing the last apples.  A whole day had passed doing this fun activity, and we all really enjoyed it.  We were tired from being up all day.  Lucas and Siena did awesome and were so helpful.  We wanted to do it again when weeks after we still had tons and tons of apples falling from our two trees.

I wonder if it was the bees that helped us get so much fruit this year.  It is incredible the amount of apples we had this year.

We drank so much apple juice that day.  Fresh from our backyard fruits.  Nothing else than washed apples, cutting, chopping, and pressing.  We are so glad we finally did it this year.

We froze most of the juice.  But I also wanted to try canning it.  We strained it, and then boiled the juice for 3-5 minutes.  We then put it in quart jars, and placed it in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.  (I looked at this website.)

We are also making hard cider.  We haven’t tried it yet, but we are looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

We pressed over 10 20 gallons (I was corrected) of apple juice that day.  We drank apple juice that whole day, and the following days (kept in the fridge), and gave it to our friends.  But I’m also looking forward to drinking it when we are inside, and it’s the middle of winter.

There is no going back.  We are already planning to renting a press next year, and making some more apple juice.

Tutorial : popcorn over the fire

Popcorn over a camp fire, camping, my kids say it’s even better than popcorn made at home, no matter how you make it.

I didn’t grow up with popcorn.  In Chile, or at least my family, we only had caramel popcorn in amusement parks-type places, sometimes.  I don’t remember having it much. So when we moved to the US,  after trying the ‘salty popcorn’ I had to have a popcorn popper.  My first one was an air popcorn popper we found at a garage sale.  It was so good!  Until the machine broke.  Then, about 9 years ago, a friend showed me how to make popcorn over the stove, in a pot!  THAT was amazing!  I’ve made popcorn many times a week, since then.  I love it!  We all do here at my house. at least.

But as my kids say, THIS (camping popcorn) is THE BEST!

So here’s a tutorial on how to make popcorn, in case you are in the woods, with a popcorn popper and do not know how to use it.  It could happen!

1- First you need to gather your wood for the camp fire.

2- Have a little helper start the fire.

3- Or have two little helpers, that can work together in making a fire.

4- Then you put a little oil and the popcorn in the over-the-fire popcorn popper.

I found this popcorn popper at a thrift store but I’m sure you can find them around.  This is the only one we’ve ever had, so I can’t really compare it to others or recommend one over another.  But this has worked for us over quite a few camping trips.

5- Then you put the popper over the fire, shaking it a little every now and then, to make sure it doesn’t burn.

6- And you wait, and shake, and wait some more.

7- You can switch ‘shakers’ because it gets hot sometimes and it’s tiring.

You might need to wear dinosaurs pajamas while you are making the popcorn, so it tastes better.

8- And you wait some more.

9- And make funny faces when Mamá takes so many pictures!  You know, for the one that would turn out really good picture, or for the tutorial for the blog.

10- You’ll hear when the popcorn is ready, because after it goes crazy popping, it won’t be popping as much.11- When it’s done popping get it out of the fire.  Just like over the stove, make sure you don’t leave it for too long, so it doesn’t burn in the bottom.  For ours, we added salt.

12- We also added nutritional yeast.  But you can add as many or as little condiments as you’d like.

13- And after eating it all, you can go back to what you were doing before all the popping, as we did.

Everybody content and tired, ready for a good and peaceful, night of sleep.

Tutorial : Our garden wishes

Looking on how to do our Earth Day Prayer Flags, I found Maya’s Garden Wish Flags.  I thought it was such a neat idea, that I shared it with my family, and we sat down one day to make ours.

So I set everything outside one pretty sunny day.  Some boards to draw on (our table has big slots), the flags, fabric markers, and some books with inspirations, in case someone needed them.

First, like our Earth Day Prayer Flags I used an old sheet and cut them in rectangles the seize I wanted them to hang.  Then I folded about 2 inches on top to make a little pocket, to pass the binding through, that we used for hanging the flags.

Then we drew.  We actually first talked about what we wanted for our garden and then we drew.

We used fabric markers this time, instead of paints. We have a few different kinds, we’ve used in other projects in the past years.  Some of these markers and some of these.

After we were all done drawing, I set them with the iron, and we passed through a piece of binding I found in some of our thrifting trips.  Green this time, hoping for lots of greens in our garden.

I think they looks so cute.

Thank you Maya for another great inspiration!  I love looking in our backyard and seeing these flags wave with the wind, and decorate and inspire my days.  I wonder if there’s another place we need these flags…

Making : keeping our calendula

I’ve mentioned before that as we are cleaning up our garden, we are using and trying to save all the calendula flowers we can.  We don’t want to pull them all, and I don’t think we can.  The seeds spread so easily, that there’s more coming up all the time.   And we transplanted some to the front yard, hoping they can spread all they want there, and we can have more calendula all the time.

Right now the vegetable garden seems much smaller than before, and we need the space.  So we are pulling the plants we need the space from, but those that we can leave, we are picking the blooms and enjoying them.  I love that deep orange color.

We’ve made a calendula salve from this book already. This one is made with fresh flowers, and we are really enjoying the salve, and have shared it with friends.  Now,  we’d  like to try different recipes and other ways to preserve the flowers.

So we are drying the whole flowers.  We cut through the first set of leaves with scissors or clippers, and then we trim them to just leave the top.  We set them on screen windows to dry.  With our cooler days here in Portland it seems that they’ve been taking a long time.  But we’ve let them dry for few days like this, laying flat.  Then we put them in paper bags, shaking them every day to make sure they are drying.

Others, we are pulling the stems.

We are left with these beautiful tiny bouquet.

And a bag of petals, ready to be dried.

Once the petals have been dried, we put them in jars. About 3/4 full, and then cover them with olive oil, with a little over an inch of oil on top of the petals to preserve them better, they say.

The petals float and have this beautiful color against the sunset…

They look so pretty…. I think.  Now, they are sitting on our kitchen windowsill. Catching the sunlight when we have it, keeping a little warmer, when they can. We shake them, give them a twirl every day, and we’ll see what they make in a couple more weeks.

For now, we are waiting and thinking what we’ll make next with them.

Making : calendula salve

We’ve started cleaning our garden, to get it ready to plant and transplant all the seeds that Siena has started.

As every year, our calendula plants are spread all over our vegetable garden, and they look beautiful! I love seeing them in the winter, with their greens so strong, ready to flower as soon as they can.

We’ve never done anything with them but admire them and place them in vases for some fresh cut flowers to enjoy throughout our house.  But I checked out this book from the library a while ago and found a recipe for calendula salve I thought we’d try.  The Essential Herbal for Natural Health by Holly Bellebuono is a great book.  So good! Lucas and Siena gave it to me for Mother’s Day, I’m so excited to have it on hand now whenever we need it.

With Siena’s love for making all things at home, especially with wild plants, didn’t take us long to get started.

Mix equal parts of fresh calendula flowers and olive oil.  Warm on stove in very low heat for about 20 minutes.

Pass through the colander to keep the liquid without the flowers.

Put it back on the stove on low heat to melt some beeswax with it.

Let it cool a little.  Pour it onto a jar and enjoy!  My hands have felt better since we made it, they’ve been very dry.  I love how it feels.  Siena does too.  We are enjoying our salve, and Siena has a little travel size for her days out. Mmm, so good.  Look at the color!  If I could only smell…

Seeing that our calendula is flowering like crazy, with our rain and sunshine, and also some requests from Siena, I’m looking for more salves or good things to make with calendula.

I’ve also read that is better to use dried flowers instead of fresh, because they tend to get moldy quicker.  So we are drying some flowers and some petals as well, separate, to give it a try on different recipes.

I’ve found these recipes too that we’d like to try:

Oh… we are having so much fun.

Tutorial : S’mores

The other day, on a week day, it was pretty but cold by the evening, so we decided to have a fire, and of course, s’mores.  Ah… the beauty of homeschooling.  Who doesn’t need s’mores mid-week, right?

It’s been a long time since we’ve had them.  Probably since last July, when we were camping, before leaving to India.  And again last night, we had some with our friend’s new fire pit.

For those needing a reminder, or maybe these pictures will convince you to make a fire soon, here’s how to make s’mores.

  • Start a fire (safely, please.)
  • Wearing pajamas and double caps is optional.

  • Wait until you have good, red coals.

  • While you wait, you can get the supplies: large marshmallows, graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate, and roasting sticks.

  • Get your crackers and chocolate ready before you roast your marshmallow.

  • Roast your marshmallow.

Note: Please be careful when you are roasting your marshmallow, so it doesn’t get on fire.  If it does, don’t panic.  Slowly get it off the fire and blow it out.  Usually at this point the marshmallow is very soft and it will come off the stick and fly onto other people’s eyebrows and burn them, very easily.  This is a ‘sore’ subject at home. 

  • When the marshmallow is roasted  (or burned) as you like, get it off the fire and place on top of your cracker with the chocolate piece (so the chocolate starts melting.)

  • Put the other cracker on top.

  • Squeeze.  Get the stick off the melted marshmallow, carefully again.  Not for burning anybody’s eyebrows, but because you have a hot snack, pointy sticky stick, and excited people wanting to eat.

  • Sit down and enjoy.

  • And have fun!

Tutorial : prayer flags : earth day every day

On Earth Day, we celebrated by planting and gardening and being outside all day.  We try to celebrate and respect nature every day, but there’s always a good reason to be even more thoughtful about how we go about our days, while we walk on our planet.

I’ve been wanting to do flags that would remind us of taking care of our home, in the bigger sense, and have thought of few ideas.  But what made sense this year, was to create Earth Day Prayer Flags, and I love the connection we have now with India, and having visited the foothills of the Himalayas, it makes me feel like I have a stronger connection to the original meaning of these.  And though I looked for prayer flags while we were in northern India, these that we made here at home last week, will remind us of why we have them.

Prayer flags are hung to bless the surrounded area and countryside (where they originated in the Himalayas) and are said to bring long life, prosperity and happiness for those who hang them and the vicinity.  These are our wishes to our friends and neighbors and to the world, on Earth Day, but mostly, every day.

I found these when I was searching on ideas on what to print and I was originally inspired by Maya’s post on her blog on garden wish flags.  They are so beautiful!  I can see us making more flags soon.

This is how we made them:

I recycled one of my linen pants that were not fitting right anymore.

I cut each rectangle, 9×13 inches.  I folded over one side, one inch, so we can pass the ribbon through it, to hang.

In one of our walks, and from our garden, we picked some leaves we wanted to print.

We used Jacquard fabric paint I had bought at Dharma Trading a while back to try freezer paper stencils on t-shirts few summers ago.

We used a foam brush to paint the leaves.  We painted them in the front and others in the back, giving us different prints.

Then we placed the leaf in the spot we wanted in the fabric piece.

We put a (recycled) paper on top of the painted leaf and then with a brayer, we went over the leaf few times, making sure the leaf and paper wouldn’t move, so the print was clear.

Took the paper out and carefully lifted the leaf.

To see the beautiful prints on our fabric pieces!

We let the prints dry outside while it was a little warm and sunny.

And then this paint says to set it with an iron on the back of the painted fabric, for few seconds.  We did that.

And then we lined them up in the order we wanted to see them hung.

We used a green bias tape to use as a string to hang the flags from. I always grab these when I see them when I’m thrift stores.  We seem to find many ways to use them in our crafting.

I went through the bias and the individual flags with the sewing machine so the flags wouldn’t shift around when they are hung and moving with the wind.

I love how they turned out. They make me happy to see them flying in our porch, and sharing the blessings in our neighborhood.

Potato planting : a tutorial

With all our enthusiasm we got too many potatoes at the nursery.  Even with Mark growing up in Idaho, we haven’t planted potatoes more than two times in our adult life living here in Portland.  But here we are this year, catching up I guess!

On a side note, potatoes (aloo in Hindi) were cultivated in South America for centuries until they were introduced to Europe by the Spanish.  then, immigrants brought them from there to North America.  Crazy how me being from Chile and Mark being from Idaho show all the signs that we were meant to plant potatoes!

By no means we are experts in potato gardening, but this is what ‘we’ learned (by ‘we’ I mean Mark doing the searching) in reading books and online.

TUTORIAL: How to Plant Potatoes

1- First you need to get some good helpers. That is the most important part, so it can make it even more fun to be outside growing your own food and getting everything done and taking good care of them.

2- Then you get the potatoes you bought from the nursery, or those forgotten potatoes in the back of the basket growing roots already.  If they are big enough you cut them so they have an eye per piece, and are just big enough. For those potatoes that are small (like fingerling) you don’t have to cut them.

Lucas said this is so pretty! And yes it is so pretty! Love the color.

3- You need to let the potatoes dry a little where you just cut them, for a day or so, so they don’t get infected in the dirt and survive and grow healthy instead.  Note: some places they said to coat the potatoes with sulfur, but we decided not to do it this time. 

4- Then you get into your garden and loosen the soil.

5- Make a trench and make sure the soil is loose in the bottom.

6- Place the potatoes in the trench with the eyes and sprouts up.

7- Plant them about 10 inches apart in the trench.

8- Cover them with about 3 inches of soil.  When they start appearing you cover them back up again.

9- Get everyone together and decide where two feet are in your bed and start your other trench.

10- Dig another trench and plant the same way.

11- Then, get everyone together again and find wood you’ve had laying around from other projects and build another raised bed, for the other dozens of potatoes you already bought.

Lucas also made the comment on how pretty this cut wood looks. And I agree again. It is really pretty.

We didn’t get to finish our raised bed, but I’ll post the rest of the pictures when the rain stops again and we are ready to set our bed next to the other ones to continue our “potato field.”

Making : beeswax candles with my kids + tutorial

I love candles.  I really enjoy having them lit for meals.  I think they add a specialness to the occasion, and it’s such a small thing to do that I try to have them a lot.

I made my first candles a very long time ago, 18 years ago actually, when I first moved to the US.  I was excited to be able to make so many crafts than in Chile I never saw or learned.  Then, few years back, I made them with Siena in our first days of Laura Ingalls Wilder (together with making butter, learning to quilt, etc) when all we did was the “old way.”  She also made some in one of her classes/camps at Trackers few years later.

We’ve played around with beesawax before, making hand dipped and rolled candles, and also trying a recipe for a salve and lip balm.  We have a list of other recipes and projects we want to try with beeswax, and especially since we have our own bees.

But for now we wanted to take photos of our hand dipping candle making and record it here.  Maybe for someone else out there wanting to try, but also, because it’s fun to see what we’ve been making.   Here’s our tutorial.

TUTORIAL: Hand dipped beeswax candles

Supplies: hot plate or stove + can (to melt beeswax) + pot (for water and big enough to fit the can) + beeswax + candle wick + 2 bolts (for the weight) + knife + scissors + jar/pot (for cold water)

Note about the supplies: I’ve had some supplies for a long time, and our friend Glendie, gave us all of her candlemaking supplies, so we can leave these for this use.  The pot for the water bath will probably get wax in the process and I think it’s a lot easier to just keep it for that, but I’m sure the beeswax will come off if you want to re-use it for other projects.  But I’m also sure you can find a used one in the thrift store would be  ideal.

The can for melting the beeswax you’ll keep reusing it because you’ll probably have wax left that will harden and then you will reheated for next time, so that one you won’t clean up.  The can should be a tall and narrow so you don’t have to use too much wax to make tall candles.  I’m still trying to find the perfect can for this.  Ours is a little too wide and short, but it works just fine for making candles.

I had this beeswax and have been trying to cut it to fit into the can to melt. Sometimes I shave it with the knife so it melts quicker.  You can also buy beeswax pieces, which would make it a whole lot easier.  Put the beeswax pieces (whatever size you end up having) in the clean and dry tall can where the wax will be melting.  Then put the can in a pot with warm water (to get a head start.) You always need to heat the beeswax in a double boiler, or water bath. Never put it direct to the heat source.

It will look something like this.  You need to do this part first, because it will take a while to melt the beeswax.

Now, while the wax is starting to melt, get the wick ready.  The wick should be a little taller than the can you have for melting your beeswax or whatever size you want to make your candles.  This is going to be how tall your candle will be.

Double the wick, because you will be making two candles at a time.

Tie one bolt on each end of the wick. It doesn’t have to be a big knot, but secure enough so it won’t fall off when you are dipping.  The bolts are for the weight, to keep the wick straight when you dip it.

Dip it in the can of melted beeswax, holding the wick in the middle section, because you’ll be making two candles at a time.  As you know, you have a can full of hot beeswax and a hot plate (or stove).  Make sure the kids are not too close and are working carefully.

You’ll be dipping lots of time.

After each dip you put your wick with the growing wax sheet in a jar of cold water, to cool off.

It will cool it off quicker and let you dip and dip and make your candle quicker.

Dip again.  Make sure you don’t keep the wick in the hot, melting beeswax for too long.  It will melt the beeswax you already have in your wick, which is the start of your candle.

So keep dipping your wick in the beeswax.

And into the cold water jar, again and again, alternating.

And again. Lots and lots of time, until you like the size and look of your candles.

Because of the bolt in the bottom, it will make this funny shape.  My son leaves them like this, because they are called Oompa Loompa Candles. But you can also make them even in the bottom.

Once you have the size of the candle you like, you are ready to trim the bottom, to make it more even and to take out the bolt, for more candles.

Peel off all the excess beeswax you have around the bolt.  It is still warm, soft and smooth and smells good. Go ahead and take off excess beeswax around the bolt, carefully.

With the knife (that we keep for these projects too) you cut the bottom section of the wick that is tied to the bolt.

With your hands, make it smoother.  Flat or rounded, however you like it.

Now with the little bits of wick left, that you took from around the bolt, you can also use them to make tiny candles.

Dip them as the other ones.  For these don’t tie a bolt, they are already stiff because they have wax already and they are already small pieces.  Just be careful with the hot wax pot, because you have less wick and will be getting your hands closer to the hot beeswax.

It’s the same process.  Dip in hot beeswax and then cold water, time and time again, until you like the size.  We made lots of tiny birthday cake candles. We dipped them less than the bigger candles, and were very easy, much quicker, to make.  And so much fun!

We gave some of these to our little friend for his birthday and got to see them lit on his birthday cake.  Can’t get more special than that to the maker of these candles!

You can dip and dip and make candles all day, or all morning, or all weekend.  We had so much fun and we’ve been using them each day at dinner time.  It reminds me of the day of making and of light that we seem to have more of.  It calms me seeing that fire flicker at dinner time.

I think we are planning another day of making soon!