Monthly Archives: December 2013

Don’t Trash that Tree! Recycle It Instead

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One of the most iconic symbols of Christmas may be sitting in your home.  Perhaps it is artificial?  Or maybe yours is fresh?  People, I am talking about Christmas trees!

Christmas tree

Christmas tree

Every year, between 25 – 30 million fresh (real) trees are sold according to the National Christmas Tree Association.  That equates to a lot of potential landfill waste.  But before you set your tree out at the curb, consider another option.

For starters, did you know that there are over 4,000 Christmas Tree  recycling programs across the United States?  Many of them are hosted at the community level, such as by the city forestry or parks department.  Some counties also host their own tree recycling program.  Residents are notified (typically) in several formats, such as by newspaper articles, inserts in local utility bills, radio spots, and even hosted on city websites.  City hosted programs often involve offering several drop-off sites around the community for a set period of time (generally around two – three weeks).  The trees are then collected and taken to a facility where they are chipped into mulch.  (Cities often post announcements asking that the trees be free of any decorations… so remove all of those ornaments, lights, hooks, and tinsel.)

As a side note, fresh evergreen garland or wreaths are usually not accepted at the fresh Christmas Tree recycling locations.  This is primarily due to the fact that wreaths are generally constructed on wire frames.  Fresh garlands are made up of small evergreen branches that are bound together with wire.  In either case, the wire prohibits these items from being chipped into mulch.

Once the trees are turned into mulch, cities  determine how the mulch is to be used.  Some use the mulch in garden beds around around town, saving tax payer dollars on a yearly landscape expense.  Other cities opt to provide the mulch back to the citizens of the community, often for free or at a minimal cost.  This mulch is great for your ornamental garden beds.  Not only is the mulch attractive, but is also helps retain moisture in the soil, and helps suppress weeds if applied in a thick enough layer.

So friends, once your fresh tree has served its purpose as a decoration in your home, consider recycling it.  Your tree can provide you the gift of mulch.

New Life for Old-Fashioned Cooking Measurements

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Cookbooks.  I love them.   Each book tells its own story between the covers.  Will I unlock the secrets to a smooth gravy?  Figure how to make biscuits that are feather-light?  Or perhaps read how to make a mayonnaise without it separating in the process? I collect them and read them like novels.

vintage cookbook

vintage cookbook

In my opinion, the vintage cookbooks are in a class of their own.  Often, their recipes have a short list of whole food ingredients, providing a nostalgic look into the past.  But sometimes, my vintage cookbooks can confuse me.  The reason?  Old-fashioned cooking measurements.  Current cooking measurements popular in the United States include teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, quart, and their partial measurements, such as: 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, and 3/4.  And let’s not forget about temperatures.  Just what is a slow oven?

Vintage cookbooks may include terms such as peck and gill.  But friends, take heart, you can still try out recipes from these books.  You just have to armed with modern equivalent to those heirloom terms.

Fortunately, several of my cookbooks dating from the 1930s – 1960s have guides listing old terms and their modern equivalent.  The same is true for oven temperatures.

While modern cookbooks list an exact temperature for baking, vintage terms are slightly mysterious. Here is a clarifying guide to baking:

Vintage Term equals Modern Temperature Range

  • Very Slow Oven = 200 – 250F
  • Slow Oven = 250 – 350F
  • Moderate Oven = 350 – 400F
  • Quick or Hot Oven = 400 – 450F
  • Very Hot Oven = 450 – 500F

Measurement terms can also be confusing.  Homemakers used what they had on hand to measure out ingredients and some quantities are no longer commonly used or the term has just fallen out of favor.

Vintage Term equals Modern Measurements

  • wineglass = 1/4 C.
  • jigger = 1.5 fluid ounces
  • gill = 1/2 C.
  • teacup = scant 3/4 C. (scant refers to being slightly less than the quantity listed)
  • peck = 8 quarts
  • dessert spoon = 2 teaspoons
  • spoonful = 1 tablespoon, mounded
  • salt spoon = 1/4 teaspoon
  • dash = 1/8 teaspoon
  • pinch = 1/16 teaspoon (or what will fit between thumb and finger when pinched together)
  • saucer = 1 cup, slightly mounded
  • butter the size of an egg = 1/4 C.
  • butter the size of a walnut = 2 tablespoons

So while this is not a complete list of vintage baking measurements, it covers the more commonly used terms.

Don’t be afraid to make baked goods or meals from vintage books.  Now that you have a list of the modern equivalents, you can take the mystery out of the old recipes.  I encourage you to discover meals enjoyed by your grandparents and great grandparents.  Wonderful, whole food dishes are at your fingertips using modern equipment.

Crock Pot Cajeta: A Goat Milk Delight

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cajeta ingredients

cajeta ingredients

Goat milk has been part of my diet for years.  In my kitchen, it typically ends up as chèvre, greek yogurt, paneer, or cabécou.  While those are all wonderful ways to enjoy goat milk, I was searching for something else.

Fortunately, someone told me about cajeta and as the saying goes, the rest is history.  This goat milk delight is a sweet, dessert sauce.  Think caramel sauce, but with a more complex flavor.  I have even heard people refer to it as the Mexican version of dulce de leche.  But what it all boils down to, is a sweetened milk that is slowly cooked down into a syrup.

Cajeta

  • 2 quarts goat milk
  • 2 C. white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
caramel color of cajeta

caramel color of cajeta

Use a crock pot (slow cooker) large enough to hold at least 2 liquid quarts.  Add all ingredients to the pot and stir well to combine.  (I start this in the evening after dinner.)  Set the crock pot to HIGH and leave the lid off.  Allow the mixture to reduce in volume (depending on your crock pot temperature, it may take up to 24 hours) to the desired consistency.  Around hour 6, the color will slowly begin to change from white to a light beige.  This is great!  Starting around hour 15, periodically stir the milk mixture.  By now you should notice that it has turned a noticeable caramel color.  Continue to cook until the mixture reduces in volume to the consistency of a caramel sauce.  (With my crock pot, it took approximately 22 hours.)  As the mixture cooks, the color will continue to deepen and the sauce will continue to thicken.

This recipe will yield  approximately 4 cups of sauce.  If you desire a thicker and slightly darker caramel colored sauce, allow it to reduce further for another hour or two.   Remember to stir! Please note that the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Pour into jars with lids and refrigerate.  This mixture will keep for approximately 3 weeks in the refrigerator.  (In our household, it never lasts that long.) To serve, you can either pour the sauce into a pan and heat the sauce up or leave it chilled.  Note:  the mixture pours easily if you heat it up.

Serving suggestions: a topper for ice cream, drizzle over brownies or fresh fruit, spread over a piece of pound cake, spread between two cookies, and even as a topping for sundaes or milk shakes.

Feel free to experiment with flavorings.  Perhaps you prefer rum extract to vanilla? Maybe a splash of bourbon?

cajeta cooked in a crock pot

The next time you are at a grocery store, pick up a carton of goat milk.  If  you are a little uncertain about if you will like it or not, you could prepare this recipe using half goat milk and half cow milk.   This delightful sauce takes just a few ingredients, a trusty crock pot, and patience.  Your taste buds, friends, and family will thank you.  Enjoy!