Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hooray! Hooray for cassoulet!

Carcassone at night. 
I went to a blog class last year and the instructor told all of us never to offer excuses for not blogging.  Since then I have followed that advice.  Life is busy for everyone.  I would love to blog every day or week but with two kids, a husband, a garden and a house to run, I don't always get what I want.  However, I have noticed that it's been a long time since I've last posted.  January 2014 being my last one.  I won't offer an apology but I will give a reason to explain my absence.  Two reasons actually. 
The first is that I have been spending more time on Facebook.  I opened up a Facebook page to go with this site and I must say that I love updating that.  It's easy to post pictures and let you all know how I like to live locally.  A post actually takes a significant amount of time to put together and Facebook is much more accommodating.  If you want to see some of my Facebook updates, feel free to like my page.  Here's the link.  https://www.facebook.com/livinglavitalocal?fref=ts
The second reason I haven't been so frequent in my blogging posts is that I just finished a very nice trip to France/Spain with my family.  My husband and I took our two boys (5 and 8 years old) without checked luggage and it really required a lot of planning.  While my husband put together the actual trip, I had to do all the day-to-day prep. that usually goes unnoticed but prevents meltdowns and such.  It was a fantastic problem to have but it required a lot of attention. 
So, now that we're back I wanted to recreate one of the best meals we had while in Carcassonne, France and I wanted to use as many local ingredients as possible.  For those of you who aren't familiar, Carcassonne is a small medieval town in the south of France.  It's one of the few completely walled cities left in Europe and resides in the Languedoc region on France's Mediterranean coastline.  The city has a long and violent history, but they are one of the three cities in the Languedoc that are known for making cassoulet. 
What is cassoulet, you say?  Basically it's a rich bean stew that consists of duck confit, sausages (usually pork), and another meat.  Here's a Wikipedia link that does a pretty good job describing it.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassoulet
You also might be asking yourself what duck confit is.  Duck confit is duck that is slowly cooked in its own fat.  Before the days of refrigeration this is how meat was preserved, especially if salt was in short supply.  Duck confit is a laborious process and I felt that cassoulet was daunting enough.  Therefore I decided to purchase my duck confit from the Community Food Co-Op.  It wasn't as expensive as I thought because I only bought two legs.  One for Matt (my husband) and one for me.  The kids could taste some but I pretty much assumed they would eat the sausage.  Duck is pretty rich stuff and my kids will taste but not eat a lot of it.  Yay!!!  More duck for me.  Ummmm, and Matt too.  
Before I begin telling you how I made this cassoulet I want to stress that there are numerous versions of this dish.  The ingredients vary greatly but the process is really what counts here.  Also, cassoulet is not something you want to attempt on a weeknight.  It takes a long time.  Jacques Pepin has a recipe (that I haven't tried) for 30 minute cassoulet but in general most "shortened" versions take at least a day.  Depending on how much you want to do by hand, it can take up to 7 days!!  My recipe only took one day.  Therefore, the decision to make this "shortened" version of cassoulet rests on a few key points.
  1. I'm not a professional chef.
    I'm a woman who likes to cook at home.  I have a great passion for food but I am not formally trained in any way.  Every thing I have learned has come from experience.  I do not have the knowledge (yet) to make my own sausage and I don't have the guts (yet) to make my own duck/goose confit. 
  2. I'm a busy mom and don't have 3-7 days to dedicate to food.
    As much as I love food, the idea of spending that much time on one dish gives me the twitches. 
  3. I am lucky enough to live in a town where I can buy good quality products from local businesses who are more than happy to financially benefit from my lack of know-how and laziness. 
    I don't need to do everything myself and if I can support a local business in the process then I consider it a win-win.  For this dish my holy trinity for purchasing local ingredients is the Community Food Co-Op, Mediterranean Specialties, and the Bellingham Farmer's Market.

Here's the recipe I used to make this dish.  Feel free to cut/copy/and paste it and then print it out.  I'm still working on a printer friendly option for blogger.  (If any other fellow bloggers have some suggestions I'd be open to them hearing them.)  This recipe was inspired by Chef John from foodwishes.blogspot.com but my recipe doesn't utilize his crust.  Most chefs will agree that the bread crust is an essential component to a cassoulet but I have to disagree a bit.  Why?  Well, my husband and I sampled two different cassoulets at  two different restaurants and both did not include a crust.  I figured that if two chefs in Carcassonne didn't feel that the crust was necessary then that was good enough for me. 

Here's a few pictures for us visual folks to help get you started. 

Lay out your beans on a tray and pick out any stones or icky looking beans.

Rinse your beans before you soak them.

Get your meat ready. 
Take a look at that ham shank!  It's a whopper compared to the duck confit.  Not to worry what the duck lacks in size it makes up for in taste. 

Cook your ham shank with your beans.

Remove your beans to a separate bowl.  Keep shank and the cooking liquid (not shown).
Remember at this point it's just pork and beans.

Brown the meat in the super tasty rendered pork fat.

Remove the meat and sauté those veggies in that yummy fat.

Mix the veggies into your bowl of beans.

Layer!  Beans + meat + beans = cassoulet.

Cover with the bean cooking liquid.

Cassoulet for the kids.

Cassoulet fore the adults. 

Jenn's Cassoulet 
inspired by Chef John of foodwishes.blogspot.com

Ingredients: (links provided for locally purchased or locally made ingredients)
For the rest of the dish:
  • 1/2 lb. fresh side pork or pancetta or bacon 
  • 1 lb. pork sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 legs of duck confit
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 14 oz. can of roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen Organics)
  • 1 tsp. herb de Provence
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
The process:

First get started with the beans. 
Soak beans overnight and drain.  Place beans in a heavy dutch oven with ham shank, bay leaf, garlic, onion, whole clove, rosemary, thyme, chicken stock, and water.  Bring everything to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer beans for about 1 hour. 
**Please note that my beans only took 30 minutes.  I was shocked!  Please taste your beans every 20-30 minutes to prevent overdone and mushy beans.  The beans should be firm but soft in the middle.  Older beans can take up to 3 hours.  Be prepared for your beans to take forever.  If they're done sooner it's fine.
After beans are fully cooked, strain, reserve cooking liquid and remove the ham shank.  You can throw away the onion, clove, garlic and such, but SAVE the liquid and ham.  You'll need them later.
At this point you should have a bowl full of bean cooking liquid, a ham shank on a cutting board and another bowl full of beans.  Cover everything to prevent evaporation of liquid which leads to the beans/ham drying out.

Now, that the beans are done let's get started on the next part of the dish.
In the same heavy dutch oven you used for the beans brown the side pork or bacon.  You want to render the fat.  Once browned put the leftover bits into the beans.  Then brown the duck confit and sausage in the rendered pork fat.  Once browned take the duck and sausage out and place onto a plate.  Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté for10 minutes.  Add the canned tomatoes, herb de Provence, salt, pepper and cook for 5 more minutes.  Take the vegetables and mix them into your bowl of beans.

Now the layering begins.  Put half of the bean mixture on the bottom of your dutch oven.  Then place your browned duck, sausages (and their reserved juices that gather on the plate) and ham shank on top of the beans.  Cover with the remaining bean mixture and try not to worry that the beans don't cover the entire ham shank.  It's fine. 

Finally, pour the bean cooking liquid over everything and make sure that the beans are just barely covered.  Keep the leftover cooking liquid to add if your beans are getting to starchy later on.
Put the entire pot into the oven at 350° for 30 minutes.  Check to see if you need to add more liquid.  Some beans are starchier than others.  I didn't need to add more liquid.  I did need to remove a bit though.  Put cassoulet (you can call it that now) back into the oven for 20 more minutes.  Check starch levels again.  You should notice that a subtle starchy crust from the beans is forming.  That's what you want to see.  If you don't see it then take out more liquid. 

Increase the oven temperature to 375° and cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes. 
When finished remove all the meat onto the cutting board.  Cut the ham off of the shank and remove any sinew or fat. 
To serve ladle beans into a shallow bowl and place meat on top.  Enjoy! 

I highly recommend having this meal with a full bodied red wine.  I was lucky enough to find a French wine from Minervois a region just outside of Carcassonne. 


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Trends: Friend or Foe?

It's the new year of 2014 and there are more new trends than ever.  Frankly, I'm feeling a little bombarded by them.  Weather trends, health trends, cooking trends, diet trends... blah blah blah.  They're everywhere and continually perpetuated by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others.  It doesn't really matter because their vehicle is the internet.  It's overwhelming at times.  Everything is constantly changing and so quickly.   Yesterday, I was extremely frustrated by it all and then I realized that I too am involved in a trend.  The "local" trend.  I perpetuate this trend with this blog (Ah!  Blogging is also another trend.  Dagnabbit!) and an accompanying Facebook page.  I guess I too am guilty of overwhelming people. 

What's so wrong with being trendy anyway?  Like most things in life there's the good and the bad.  Let's discuss. 
The good aspects of new trends in general are:
  • They get people out of their comfort zone.  Trying new things can revitalize you.
  • They help you take a new look at old, possibly bad, habits. 
  • You get a lot of support trying a new thing because "everyone is doing it."
  • As human beings we like to be part of something bigger than ourselves and with many people turning away from religion/other belief systems this helps fill that psychological void.  (See what I did there.  I got all deep on you.)
  • It makes you feel like you did in High School (If you were popular that is.)
Now the bad parts about being part of a trend.
  • You just got the hang of the "new" trend and now it's old.  Now you feel like the old fuddy duddy trying to keep up.  No one likes that.
  • Some of those old "habits" weren't all that bad and now you're feeling the consequences of it.  (This is how I felt about getting on the dairy is the devil trend.  Dairy wasn't exactly awful, I was just having too much of it.  By cutting ALL of it out, over time I made my body unable to tolerate lactose completely.  Then when I was ready to reintroduce dairy back into my life I found myself being severely lactose intolerant.  It's been over 10 years now and I still have problems.  Now that's a bad consequence of a trend.)
  • There's no support for you now because "no one is doing it."
  • It makes you feel like you did in High School (Even if you were popular who wants to feel the old peer pressures of High School as an adult?)
  • Eventually, all the trends start contradicting each other.  (First, whole foods are good, now some are bad, and pretty soon you can't eat anything but some smoothie you read Gweneth Paltrow drinks.)
One of the biggest problems I have with trends is that they are not based on much.  They are based upon a very new idea that has little research to back it up.  I know.  I know.  That's part of it's appeal but it's a potentially dangerous one.  This is especially true for health trends. 
So many people who are on the "all grains are bad" trend are going to find themselves very undernourished.  Not all grains have gluten in them and they are important for a well balanced diet.  Apparently, in Facebookland, beans and other legumes are becoming the culprit of many health problems?  Really?  Can we please keep things simple people.  How about we just eat whole, regular foods and eat as little processed foods as possible.  O.K.?  Sheesh.

Then there's the whole all vaccines are bad trend.  Remember Jenny McCarthy?  I do.  While she's not the one who started it, she is the one who popularized it.  My son Ross was about a year old when she started her uneducated rants about vaccines causing autism.  She took her own motherly feelings of worry and guilt, capitalized on them, and scared the crap out of millions of parents.  Now, what do we have?  We have lovely whooping cough epidemics throughout the U.S. and now this because somehow we just can't shake the idea that vaccines are somehow wrong.  http://www.king5.com/health/body/Another-flu-death-reported-officials-warn-about-unusual-season-239071751.html

That is a particularly strong trend that is having some traumatic and dangerous results.
So what does this mean for me and this blog? Well personally I am very uncomfortable with the idea of  "being local" as a trend.  It may have found a resurgence as a trend, but it's actually a very old concept.  A value really. 
This is when I get all sentimental and start thinking of my grandparents.
They had a mom/pop store during the WWII and for a time their existence relied heavily on their local community.  Then the BIG and NEW trend on the 50's and so on made the idea of being local as old fashioned or bad.  Out went the mom and pops and in came the Piggly Wiggly's of the era and here stayed a new value.  Big is good.  Small is bad.  It became a national value really and we are finding that it too has had some terrible consequences. 
So where's the distinction for us now?  When does something that started as a trend become a good idea to hold onto?  How do you know what's worthy of your time and energy?  In short. 
How do you know if your "trend" is valuable? 
Well you have to ask yourself some insightful questions and take a good hard look at the answers. 
  • Do you like this trend? 
    Ask yourself if you truly enjoying participating in whatever you're doing.  I immensely love working with local people, businesses and places.  More importantly I love discovering new ones. 
  • Can you see yourself doing this 10 or more years from now?
    If you can see this being a part of your life then keep on with it despite what others say or do.  This is the hard part.  Going against the grain is never easy.
  • Is this something you feel is important enough to share with your children/grandchildren/people close to you?
    This is when a trend becomes a value or value system.  I talk about doing things locally with my kids all the time.  For me it's not just a trend but rather a way that we show support and hence become a valuable part of our community.  The sense of community is a very, very old value.  It's biblical actually. 
Yesterday I had a local experience that illustrated the importance of hanging on to my local value system. 

I went out to buy a Miele stick vacuum at Dewaard and Bode.  They are a large local appliance company and I've bought many things from them over the years.  They embody an older yet important sales value.  The idea that the customer should be very informed about what they are buying and get the best price is solid here.  I also found that they are willing to send you to another local store to help you get what you want.  The vacuum I wanted was out of stock and Dave, the salesman, could see that I really wanted this thing that very day.  So he called another store, Rector's Vacuum Service., and not only did they have the vacuum I wanted, they also had it $10 cheaper. 

This is the part of "being local" that is not trendy.  It's not trendy to send a customer to a competitor.  It's trendy to find that product online for cheap.  Really cheap.  But guess what?  If I have a problem with that vacuum I can go back to Rector's and they will help me.  They are quite passionate about vacuums there and now I am as well.  I don't get that same experience online. 
It's the local experience that this blog represents and perpetuates.  It's because of that experience that will ensure that Dewaard and Bode will have a loyal customer for a very long time. 

I want to end this post by dedicating it to all the local businesses out there that enhance our local experience.  Thank you for making the trend a value.  Lord knows we need something solid and stable like that in this world.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Local Holiday Haunts


The holidays are officially here and there's plenty to do.  It's the perfect time to celebrate our fabulous local shops, cafe's and restaurants.  I have a few regular places that I frequent and I've found some delicious new ones as well.  Here's a compilation of my local haunts this season. 

Every holiday I do my utmost to support local businesses as much as possible.  Shopping, eating and lounging locally is one of the best ways to help you feel connected to your community on a deeper level.  Here is where I've been and where I plan to be this holiday season. I am providing links to as many places as possible this year.  Need more ideas or better reasons to live locally?  Check out Sustainable Connections webpage.

1.  Fairhaven Toy Garden:  I bring both my boys to this store all the time.  Sometimes we just play and sometimes we buy.  This year to pacify my children I had them pose with the toys they wanted for Christmas and took pictures of them with my iPhone.  When I finally went shopping for their gifts I had the perfect electronic Christmas list all ready to go.

2.  Kids Northwest:  I've blogged about this wonderful store before.  Mike and Janet are awesome people and steadfast owners and I have been buying Christmas slippers for the boys there for a few years.  This year we hit a milestone.  Ross has finally outgrown the size of slippers that they carry.  I bought Finn's there and Mike sent me to another local store to get Ross' size.  You will find that a common theme among local businesses.  If they don't carry something always ask if there is another place in town to get what you need.  More often than not you will discover a fantastic new store but also unique things you couldn't find anywhere else. 

3.  LFS (Lummi Fishing Supply):  This is where Mike sent me to get Ross' slippers.  This place is amazing!!!  I found at least 5 different things within minutes that I wanted for myself, let alone others.  They carry Acorn slippers for kids, men, and women.  I've got to send Matt there for me.  Now please understand that this is a fishing supply store.  Don't be discouraged by all the manly there.  There is a plethora of items that would be great gifts for men, women and children.  Remember this place also had fantastic outdoor coats, fleeces, sweater and hats.  Currently I am coveting their fisherman caps.  They are considered incredibly chic for women's fashion in Paris right now. 

4.  Ciao Thyme:  This company not only runs their own café but they also cater, host dinners, provide cooking classes, and sell fantastic cooking/food items.  A gift certificate, cookbook, lunch, or gourmet items are fantastic gifts for your favorite food enthusiast ( I hate to use the term foodie.  It conjures too many sarcastic mental images).  I have been hooked on this place every since I was lucky enough to attend a dinner there.  The menu is local and inventive and I can guarantee that the food isn't just impressive but rather astounding.  Gift certificates can be used for the café, dinners, and goods.  This is one of my new favorite places.

5.  Seifert & Jones:   There's a new wine merchant in town and let me tell you that you are missing out if you don't get yourself down here.  Ted and Diane know their stuff and this shop has incredible vino for all price ranges.  Where else can you get a collectors wine and a drinkable one at the same place.  Don't know what wine goes with what?  They will guide you through the confusing world of wine from France to Chili.  Diane was the first to help me in this area when I first came to town.  She was the wine buyer for the Fairhaven Market (now Haggen) then.  I miss seeing her there on my weekly trips to the grocery store but now I'm thrilled that I can still obtain her (and Ted's) guidance in wine.  I always go home with great bottles and I found their prices to be quite reasonable.  Pop in take a look and better yet come to one of their free tasting's on Friday/Saturdays.  Check the link for upcoming events.

6.  Launching Success:  This is an exceptional educational store that is heavily used not only by teachers but also parents.  They also have an amazing selection of toys and their Lego section is pretty impressive.  This locally owned store also coordinates with school PTA's and gives back a percentage of sales for participating schools.  Can't get that at Toys-R-Us.

7.  Chocolate Necessities:  This store houses some special chocolatiers.  Not only is there chocolate incredibly authentic and delicious, almost all of it are works of art.  I got my son's preschool teachers some fabulous treats here.  Authentic truffles, chocolate mardi gras masks, decadent dark chocolate hot cocoa mixes and yes even gelato are sold here.  Their prices aren't out of this world either.  If you can control yourself it can be a very reasonable adventure.

8.  Pure Bliss Deserts:  Right next door to #7 is this delicious desert house.  They make incredible cakes, tarts, and a variety of other delectable.  They even offer wine and beer for those who like to imbibe with their cake.  I got my son's teacher a gift certificate to use at her discretion.  Last year I purchased an incredible lemon tart.  Gluten-free and dairy free options are available upon request. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Brussels Sprouts: Yet Another Reason to Buy Local


As some of you may know I'm an avid vegetable eater.  I looooove my veggies.  Always have.  Always will.  However, I have one veggie that so far I have been unable to enjoy. 
The Brussels sprout. 
Oh my.  They are awful things.  Little tiny bitter cabbages that seem to retain their caustic bitterness no matter what I do to them.  I really want to like them.  They are supposedly very good for you but I just can't get past their horrible reaction in my mouth.  I have literally tried everything I know to enjoy the Brussels sprout.  I have even fried them in bacon fat.  BACON FAT!!!  That is when I gave up.  If I can't make them even approach a tolerable level through bacon fat then perhaps this veggie just wasn't meant to be.  I walked away from that dysfunctional relationship and I wasn't the better for it.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that Matt and I were given a bag of Brussels sprouts in our CSA this month.  "Ugh!", was all that I said.  It was like seeing your ex after a really bad breakup.
It's no surprise that I hate waste, so naturally I wasn't going to throw them away.  I wasn't going to give them away either.  Oddly, some little tiny voice way in the back of my head told me that these might just be different.  Something had changed.  But what was it? 
Location.  Location.  Location.
These sprouts were locally sourced and the others ones weren't.  I bought them like most people did.  In the grocery store.  Perhaps these sprouts were being too harshly judged from my previous bad experiences.  Then I started to remember some characteristics of brussel sprouts that might explain why they had never worked for me in the past.  Here are some reasons why I thought these local sprouts might be better.
Brussels sprouts:
  • Hate to travel. 
    They don't age well on the road and are particularly fussy once picked.  Like most veggies and fruits in order to get them to the grocery store they have to be picked earlier than normal.  You just cannot pick Brussels sprouts before their appointed time.  They get bitter very quickly.
  • Grow the best in colder climates.
    Around here most of the grocery store sprouts grow in California.  In case you haven't heard it's usually pretty warm there.  Brussels sprouts get bitter in the heat and sweeter in the cold.  Around here they can even withstand a mild winter.  If it's cold in your area and you get local sprouts they will be sweet and not bitter and therefore taste FAR better.
  • Taste the best when their natural sugars are caramelized. 
    Some people roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Others use bacon fat and sauté them in a pan over medium high heat.  Whatever you do make sure at least one side gets lovingly browned.  That's the caramelization.  That's the good stuff. 
  • Are fussy!!!
    You can't just throw those suckers into the oven or pan.  Sprouts require tending. 
    Peel off the tough or discolored leaves.  Trim the ends especially if brown.  Soak them in a large bowl of cool water, scoop them out and let dry.  Then slice them in half.  Now they are ready for cooking.  Feel like skipping these steps?  Get ready for bitter nastiness.  They will taste a lot better when handled properly.
  • Go with just about anything
    Put them over pasta with that extra bacon.  Eat them as an accompaniment to roast chicken or grilled lamb.  Whatever.  They will go nicely with most main courses.
So the next time you see Brussels sprouts in your CSA, a farm stand or better yet the Farmer's Market.  Give them a second chance.  They might just surprise you. 

Here's how Matt made them.  I was understandably skittish and carefully observed with a nice glass of wine.

Matt's Brussels Sprouts
  • 1 1/2 lbs. of Brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup finely diced pancetta or bacon
  • 1 tbsp. butter (I prefer cultured butter)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
Peel off tough or discolored outer leaves of all the sprouts.  Trim the ends of each sprout while still leaving it intact.  Soak in a large bowl of cool water and let dry.  Then slice in half.  Try to make sure that all sprouts are of similar size.  Larger ones might need to be cut in fourths or thirds depending upon desired size.  Leave the root intact otherwise the sprout will fall apart. 

Meanwhile melt the butter in a 12 to 14 inch sauté pan and add the pancetta.  Keep the heat medium low and fully render the fat from the pancetta.  Once the pancetta is crispy add the Brussels sprouts cut side down.  Turn heat up to medium high.  Once sprouts are browned on one side (6-7 minutes) turn them over and place lid on top of the pan.  Cook for a few minutes longer and add pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Easy Handmade Local Crafts and Gifts You Can Make For the Holidays.

Our youngest son is in his last year of preschool at Gardenview Montessori.  It has been a warm and loving place for our entire family and we are sad to see our time there almost at an end.  Every year Gardenview hosts a holiday bazaar and there's a bevy of ways to be involved.  This year I chose to make some homemade creations to sell and then all the proceeds would go to our beloved school.  After posting some pics on my personal Facebook page (I'm still considering making a Living laVita local Facebook page) people began asking for how-to's and recipes for these donations.  So I decided to create a post about it.  This post is a how-to tutorial on how to make the following holiday goodies. 
  • 100% whole wheat pancake mix
  • Pumpkin Spice pancake mix
  • Gingerbread cupcakes with vanilla frosting topped with peppermint chips.
Not only did I have fun making these items but I realized that they make really good holiday gifts.  Also remember that all of these items are for a person with severe lactose- intolerance (That's me!).  The gingerbread cupcakes have buttermilk in them and are easy to digest for the lactose intolerant.  Buttermilk is awesome for that.  To find out why check out my other blog/website regarding dairy and digestion.  www.deconstructingdairy.weebly.com

O.K.  Let's get moving.  Let's start with the pancake mixes. 
In a nutshell, these are very simple.  It's all the dry ingredients of my recipes mixed together and divided into clean mason jars.  You really could make a fancy holiday mix out of just about anything.  Don't like the idea of pancake mixes?  Choose something that you like or that someone else would like.  I'm considering the idea of a brownie mix, hot cocoa mix, savory bread mix...The options are endless.

Here is the recipe for the pumpkin spice pancakes. They are known also as whole wheat pumpkin pancakes.  It's the same recipe but the idea of pumpkin spice and putting that label on a jar is more appealing. This recipe makes about 12 pancakes and will fill 1 16 oz. pint jar.  Since I filled 6 jars with pancake mix I had to multiply the recipe by 6.  You will need a huge bowl or container.  I used the plastic containers I usually use for making bread.  It should hold at least 1 1/2 quarts. 

Here is the recipe for the 100% Whole Wheat Pancakes that don't feel like a brick in your tummy. 
A brief note on whole wheat flours. 
I prefer to use stone ground whole wheat whenever possible.  The problem however can be one of texture.  Whole wheat is heavy and absorbs more liquid that all-purpose flour.  You cannot just substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose.  Enter whole wheat pastry flour.  Whole wheat pastry flour has the same health benefits as regular whole wheat flour but is lighter and doesn't create that heavy brick-like feeling in your tum.  White whole wheat flour can also be used in place of whole wheat pastry flour but may be more difficult to find and I feel is a bit lacking in flavor. 

Getting back on topic.  Here's the recipe. 

100% Whole Wheat Pancakes
Dry Ingredients:
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. pure cane sugar
Wet Ingredients:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups milk of choice (I prefer buttermilk or plain kefir)
  • 3 tsp. oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil)
Mix the dry ingredients together completely.  Melt the coconut oil separately and stir into dry ingredients.  Lightly beat the egg with a fork and stir into the batter.  Finally, add the milk last.  I use a whisk and beat furiously until I get the texture I want.  The batter should not be super thick and lumpy.  It should be smooth and pourable.  Batter too thick?  Add more liquid a little bit at a time and whisk thoroughly.  Moisture in the air can contribute to a too thick or too runny batter.  This recipe errors on less liquid because adding more dry ingredients can be more difficult to adapt. 

Then you just cook the pancakes as you normally would.  For those who have never made pancakes here some basic directions.
  • Heat up oil in a pan on medium heat.
  • Pour or spoon a small amount of batter into the pan.
  • When the sides of your pancake appear dry and the center of the batter is bubbly, flip.
  • Cook the other side, plate and eat that sucka!

**To make the pancake mixes follow these directions.

1.  Wash all lids, rings, and jars in warm soapy water and let them dry completely. 

2.  Multiply the dry ingredients by 6 for 6 pint jars.

3.  Whisk all the dry ingredients completely and fill up each jar to the rim.  Recipients will have to add their own wet ingredients. 

4.  Make labels for the tops of your jars.  I went to this site and downloaded the red regular wide mouth lids onto sticker paper that I got from my local Stampadoodle http://www.stampadoodle.com/.  This is a fantastic local craft store. Cut out the circle stickers and put onto the lids.  Then write down what is inside the jar, i.e. pancake mix, or pumpkin spice mix.

5.  Stampadoodle also has complimentary dye cut patterns.  As long as you buy your paper there you can use their huge supply of crafting dye cuts.  For those of you who don't know, dye cuts are automatic cutters that will cut a specific shape over and over.  They are expensive to buy your own so I opted (with help) to use a label cut out.

I also went to avery.com and downloaded an appropriate template onto my computer.  I used the dye cuts (red label patterns) to choose a template that would fit.  Then I typed in my directions for using the mix (what wet ingredients to add). 

6.  Print the directions out onto the sticker paper, cut to fit the dye cut label and stick it on there. 

Don't you like my antique paper cutter?  It's my mom's and it has a story.  I will share it if pressed.  You need to ask though.  Preferably in the comments section.  :-)   

I used some green hemp string to affix the labels to each jar. 

Here's a so-so picture of the final product.  Remember people buy Bisquick to save themselves the time of mixing dry ingredients.  These mixes are fun, cheerful, healthy, and save your friends/family the inconvenience of making them from scratch.  We all need some extra time savers during the holidays right? 

Now if you still have energy to spare.  Here is the recipe for the Gingerbread Cupcakes I made.  They are super amazing and at the bazaar they sold out in about 1 hour!  If I new they were going to be that successful I would have made more. 

Before I begin I want to tell you that while I make fantastic gingerbread, I struggle with frosting.  I haven't mastered it yet and I resorted to using a canned frosting.  Sorry, but it's the only one I know that doesn't have dairy in it and I haven't found a lactose-free frosting recipe that I like yet.  If you have suggestions/ideas for a good one.  Post it here please!!!

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting and Peppermint Chips:
Dry Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (whole wheat pastry flour will work too)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tsp. ginger powder
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
Wet Ingredients:
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup oil of choice
  • 1 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 cup (or 1/2 pint) buttermilk  (plain kefir will also work but I prefer buttermilk)
Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. 
In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and add the sugar.  Beat until smooth.  Add the oil, molasses and buttermilk and mix thoroughly.  Gradually add the dry ingredients and whish until smooth. 
Pour batter into cupcake wrappers (I used Reynolds silver ones for their festive appeal) about 2/3 full.  Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.  Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove the cupcakes from the cupcake tins and cool on a wire rack.  When completely cool frost with Pillsbury Whipped Vanilla Frosting.    Top with peppermint chips.  If you can't find any in the store, just crush up some candy canes in a plastic Ziploc bag.  Boom!  Instant peppermint chips.  Here are the ones I used.  http://kencraftcandy.com/All-Products/Seasonal/Christmas/All-Natural-Peppermint-Chips

That's it! 
Actually it was a lot of work and took all day.  But really it was for a good cause and I have about 1 or 2 times a year that I get all crafty.  That stuff takes forever!  I am going to make the gingerbread cupcakes again though.  They were insanely good and I'm not a sweets person.  That is saying a lot!

If you have questions feel free to post them here.  I get back very quickly. 
Happy Holidays to you all. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Martha Stewart: Apparently Bloggers and Being Local Are NOT a GoodThing.

I was going to write about a roast chicken I recently made, but something or rather someone got in my way.  Today I was on Facebook and found this video waiting for me to view from a friend's Facebook page.  I'm sure this video won't be out for very long and I'm sure that bloggers from all over will have something to say about it.  I certainly do.  Have a good watch and listen.
Here's a few things I noticed about her commentary and some other things with which I take issue.  Specifically her criticism of bloggers.
First and foremost, lets talk about the companies she is praising.  According to this interview these are the companies she believes to be either good, have good taste, or are good business tools.  Here's her list.
  • Home Depot:  Not "schlocky".  Because I am not a paid editor at Vogue magazine I had to look this up.  According to www.freedictionary.com schlocky means "something, such as merchandise or literature, that is inferior or shoddy."  Phew!  I'm glad that's not me.
  • Ralph Lauren
  • Macy's
  • Amazon
  • Calvin Klein
  • Donna Karen
  • Twitter
What did you notice about all these companies? 

First, I noticed that two of them (Home Depot and Macy's) sell a great deal of her products.  Hey there's nothing wrong with a little bit of shameless self promotion, but still it's worth mentioning.  She kind of went on and on about Home Depot and gave honorary mention to the others.  Hmmm.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  This is probably one of the many reasons why she is so much more successful than I can ever hope to be.  One cannot deny that she is an intense and driven business person.  I don't have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with something else about her choice of companies. Which brings me to my next observation.  
Secondly, I noticed that none of these companies are local or even locally minded.  I think that since this blog is about local living it's worth noting that Martha did not mention a single local company that she considered good or of having good taste.  Really?  How many houses does she have now in the countryside?  She couldn't think of one local business that deserved mentioning? 
The irony here is that Ms. Stewart previously used to mention on her shows about the superiority of local markets, butchers, farmers etc.  It was one of the aspects that attracted me to her shows in the first place.  Now apparently a company can never get too big and I couldn't disagree more.  Aside from Twitter, the above bulleted list contains the majority of companies that have put local businesses out of business.  Remember what Bellingham hardware/home supply stores were like before Home Depot came in?  I do.  First of all there were a lot more of them and second of all the people who worked there knew what they were talking about.  Home Depot, in Bellingham, is the bane of my DIY existence.  Now granted the scope of my DIY skills is very limited, but I have rarely had a good experience there.  After ignoring me for what seems like an eternity, you finally get someone to help you (The Expert in All Departments person) and they inevitably are unhelpful.  Either the product is not in stock or they don't know what you need.  I won't even get started about their paint department.  That's a completely different disaster and I'm already getting off topic. 

When my husband or I need something for a home project we start at one of two places: 
Hardware Sales or Builders Alliance (My brother-in-law is the Operations Manager there).  Hardware Sales has a huge selection and Builder's Alliance is where we go for impeccable quality and good taste.  It's not that difficult to find what we need and 99% of the time we do.  On those rare occasions when we can't find what is required we drag ourselves to Home Depot and hope for the best.  Usually they don't have it either and we're forced to order on Amazon.  I never feel especially thrilled that we had to look beyond a local company, but we always think local first and that's the point. 
Me on Patos Island, WA I believe.  That was a very fun day.

Let's move on to the part of the conversation that's a little more personal shall we? 
Martha has a minor gripe about us.  It's not a minor gripe as much as a general disdain.  Here are some issues she has about bloggers or people like me.  Naturally I include my response to each one:
  1. "Who are these bloggers?  They're not trained editors at Vogue Magazine." 
    Well, she's got a point.  I'm no trained editor at Vogue.  Heck I'm not an editor at all.  I'm a stay-at-home mother who has a passion for lactose-free cooking and living locally.  But guess what?  Neither is she.  Ms. Stewart is very successful, but she is not a trained editor at Vogue and she's not a blogger.  I got her beat on at least one thing.  No wonder she doesn't understand who we are.  Blogging came WAY after she was already firmly established in her current career.  Ironically, my description of myself sounds a lot like Martha back before she started catering. 
    I'm a blogger.  I write about me and I'm an expert on that. I have two blogs.  I'm very proud of them.  Both of them have nothing to do with Martha but are about me and how I choose to live my life.  They both revolve heavily around eating because I like good food.  By the way, here's a link to the other one in case you are curious.  www.deconstructingdairy.weebly.com
  2. She claims that blogger's recipes are either "not tested or are not very good."
    That's quite a claim and one that I think most bloggers are going to be upset about.  However I can only really speak for myself.  All of my recipes are tested.  I don't just make them once.  I make them many times over.  My potato leek soup took me over a year to perfect but she's right it's not good.  It's frickin' awesome.  It's so good that my kids and husband get excited every time potatoes come in our CSA box.  I take personal exception to her above comment.  What I make is good and I have excellent taste in food.  I may not have the knowledge or have the time to blog about what she makes, but I know good food when I taste it.
    I also want to know how she knows these things.  How does she know that blogger recipes aren't tested or that they aren't good?  Does she have people spying on all our blogs, testing our recipes and then finding out that they are awful?  The idea of that is a bit humorous to me though.  I chuckle at the image of Martha scouring the web for blogs of poor taste with inefficient recipes. 
  3. Blogger recipes are just "copies of things really good editors have created."
    There's a little bit of truth in what she is saying here.  Unfortunately, there are bloggers who  plagiarize other peoples recipes and display them as if they are their own.  I will speak for myself on this issue.  I have blogged before about when I believe you can call a recipe your own.   It is also important to credit the source of your recipe.  Bloggers who don't do this make us all look bad and therefore we all must endure Martha's wrath and disdain.  Thanks a lot.
    Also, editors don't create recipes.  Chefs and cooks do. 
  4. Bloggers create a "popularity..."  I'm not sure what this is referring to exactly, but basically it sounds like she feels as though she is loosing a popularity contest.  Martha Stewart is popular.  Some blogs are popular.  Mine aren't, but I don't blog to be popular.  I blog for myself.  Period.
  5. Bloggers are "not the experts."  I'm not an expert in cooking and I don't have formal training in that area. I say so in both my blogs. Both of them revolve heavily around cooking and living in a way that suits me. A small amount of people read my blogs and share my preferences.  
    Martha Stewart has a lot to offer, but she doesn't know beans about how to live locally in my community (www.livinglavitalocal.blogspot.com) and she definitely doesn't know how to cook for the lactose intolerant while still using real dairy (www.deconstructingdairy.weebly.com).
    I don't write my blogs so that I can become famous one day, even though that was clearly Ms. Stewart's goal all along. That's fine and was her choice.  I write for a creative outlet and for personal enjoyment.   
My husband Matt and my boys in Tofino, BC. 

    In conclusion here's my final point. I have a husband and family that love me and I prefer to spend time with them. That is my choice. I don't want to spend my life in the quest for popularity and fame.  My blogs may not ever hit the big time, but they are an essential creative outlet and are very important to me. I am saddened that Martha Stewart doesn't seem to understand the blogosphere and it's place in our culture.  Social media isn't going away and I'm sorry that she feels threatened by it.  She shouldn't trash all bloggers just because she doesn't get it.  She has her outlet, now leave us alone and let us have ours.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

My chicken fiasco. I kind of got what I deserved.

Chef cook holding rotten chicken leg. Isolated on white - stock photo
A few nights ago I had a dinner disaster.  Ever had one of those?  Where everything goes wrong and even your backup options are botched?  Yep. That was me.  It was stressful and frustrating.  It finally turned out well and by that I mean that my husband and I got dinner on the table.  Dinner finally ended in success but it was a nightmare getting there.  In short, here's what happened.

I was preparing to make garlic, rosemary chicken.  This was one of my favorite tasty yet easy meals and I was looking forward to it all day.  For accompaniment I made celeriac mashed potatoes and peas.  I didn't buy local chicken this time around and when I opened that package I found that it was ROTTEN!  Yep, my stand-by cheap grocery store chicken was rotten.  It reeked and I obsessively disinfected my entire kitchen after throwing it into the outside garbage.  That will teach me huh?  What an absolute waste of chicken thighs.  I hate waste and I hate that I missed out on my favorite meal.  In the end we ended up having fried eggs with bacon on top of the mashed potatoes and celeriac with extra bacon on the side.  I completely forgot about the peas and I won't even go into the other backup meal option that failed.  Ugh!  What an evening. 

However, here is what I learned.  If you can, buy local chicken from a trusted source.  You know I've been reading a lot about how the quality of chicken in the U.S. is going down.  To make matters worse, apparently recently the USDA just approved U.S. or Canadian raised chicken to be processed in China and then imported back into the U.S.
Here's a somewhat biased article on the subject http://www.thenewamerican.com/economy/sectors/item/16629-usda-approves-import-of-poultry-processed-in-china
Here's what the USDA's own blog says on the matter.  http://blogs.usda.gov/2013/09/24/ensuring-safety-of-imported-processed-chicken-from-china/
Oh, sure this makes perfect sense right?  Let's send our chicken to China to be processed under "annually approved" conditions and then send it back here to be sold.  There are many disturbing unanswered questions but for me there is one glaring question that keeps me up at night.  How do you define processed?  The USDA's blog seems to refer to processing as cooked poultry but it doesn't specifically say so.  However, this is what I found on their site about poultry processing Q & A section.
What is poultry processing?
Poultry processing is the term used by the poultry industry to describe the conversion of live poultry into raw poultry products fit for human consumption.
Am I right in assuming that according to this definition U.S. approved chicken could be shipped live to China and then "processed" only to be shipped back here in packages?  I don't know for sure because the USDA's blogs appears to be insinuating that only cooked poultry will be processed but they don't say either way. 
When most of us think of "processed chicken" we think of frozen chicken nuggets or the stuff you buy at Costco in the frozen section.  In other words this stuff.
 Fried chicken nuggets, French fries and vegetables - stock photo
However, technically it appears that the USDA considers processed chicken to be live chickens turned into edible ones.  In theory this means that every chicken you eat is "processed."  Is it so terrible to want to eat real chicken thighs that haven't been shipped across the Pacific Ocean?   I think we can all agree that processing any chicken closest to home is ideal.  Even the Chinese insist upon the freshest chicken, hence all the live chicken markets there.
You know that rotten chicken I wasted my money on?  It was from California.  I don't know what happened from here to there but it wasn't good.  I have no idea how the chickens were treated.  I have no idea what they ate.  I know what state they came from but not the town and certainly not the farm.  I did get it cheap though.  Yes, I bought some really cheap rotten chicken.  What a deal right?  Mmmmmmm.  Not!
I could have taken the rotten carcass back to the store to return it.  I've done it before and guess what?  It's a nightmare.  Storing the icky chicken without contaminating your entire family is ridiculously difficult.  Then you have to find your receipt which is probably already in the garbage because who really keeps their grocery store receipts.  If it's a local store and you know all the people in the meat section you might be fine but it's still awkward. 
a butcher and his wife/assistant - stock photo
Now a local butcher.  That would be a totally different experience.  Buying chicken/poultry/beef/pork or whatever from a local butcher would be completely different for some very important reasons. 
  1. All a butcher does is work with meat.  If you buy meat there the people there will remember you.  There aren't other products that you buy that confuse the matter.
  2. A local butcher knows where they get their meat from.  They can usually tell you exactly which farm, how the chickens lived, how they were processed etc.  All your questions can be addressed.  Try getting that kind of information from the meat department of a general grocery store.  (Some of our local grocers do pretty well but a local butcher does better).
  3. The meat is a bit more is expensive but that means it's more guaranteed.  A butcher's reaction to a bad piece of meat can be described like this:  Astonishment, embarrassment, frustration, shock, etc.  This is how a good local butcher reacts.  I've returned bad meat to a grocery store.  The reaction can be described as this:  Shrugging, accusatory, passive with a possible aggressive.
    Both places will make sure you are reimbursed.  Hey, bad meat happens even to the best, but a distributors reaction says it all.
I didn't return my rotten chicken.  I didn't want to deal with the hassle of it all and I felt like I should have know better in the first place.  I had a lot of excuses for purchasing that chicken and most it them had to do with convenience.  Next time I will have answers to my questions.  I will know where my hen came from.  I will know what it ate.  I will know the farm where it came from and hopefully it only had one bad day.  Next time I will likely pay more but next time the product will be better.   

Now that I'm done with my chicken rant, I'd like to tell you some very good news about this entire situation.  Finally Bellingham has a local butcher in town!!!  I will be doing a post about what I did with that chicken soon.  All I have to say is that the chicken I made was friggin' amazing!  I felt good about buying it locally and it was from a local trustworthy source. 

So hey there Bellingham peeps.  Go check out Carne at 902 N. State Street.  Call first or go to their Facebook page to find out what they have in stock.  I cannot wait to try some different meats.  Last time I checked they had rabbit.  Rabbit!  Ooooo, that just makes me incredibly curious and excited but that's a post for another day. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sometimes it's the little things.

Finn at Boomers having a milkshake.
Life gets busy and sometimes living locally is done in a few very simple ways in our family.  It doesn't have to be complicated, just fun and local.  Yesterday was my oldest sons first day of school. My youngest was a bit bummed that he didn't get to go so I decided that we would have a simple morning of fun.  

First we went to Joe's Gardens to pick up extra fruit and veggies and then it was off to the library to check out books, play, and read.  Finally, we ended our morning with an early lunch at Boomers. 

Now I know this doesn't sound like it's that impressive but you know what?  Sometimes it's the little things.  I could have gone anywhere for a milkshake for Finn and I could have gone to Fred Meyer or Target for fruit and veggies but I didn't.  This is an example of how we make living local a part of our daily life.  It's how we connect as a community and by taking my son along I am sending the message that these are our priorities.  It's the little ways in which we choose to live locally that add up to big impacts for our community.  Today I am documenting just that.
What do you do that's simple but local.  How do you impact your community in small ways?

Library books with a new tote that we purchased there.  It's really durable and only $5!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Making your own very large hoop house.

Here's the very first hoop house I made a few years ago.  Notice the clothespins.  Haha!  Those didn't last very long. 

The summer season is coming to an end and its time for me to start preparing my garden for cooler temperatures.  Doing this involves two very important things.
  1. Planting seeds or starts that will be ready for harvest in the Fall.  The only seeds I will be planting are lettuces/greens because they grow so quickly.  I got a late start this year so I will be planting mostly starts from Joe's Gardens
  2. Making a hoop house. 

Now you might be asking what a hoop house is and what it's used for. 

Basically, a hoop house is a little house that you make for your plants/seeds. The structure is made from plastic flexible pipes and is hoop-like in shape. The "roof" of the hoop house is either plastic sheeting or yards of frost blanket.  
There are many benefits to putting one in your garden. Some of these are:
  1. Heat!
    A hoop house traps heat inside.  This accelerates plant/seed growth and it allows you to grow things that would not otherwise grow in your climate.  I am wanting the heat for this middle bed to help my peppers continue to grow.
  2. Bug damage prevention
    If your hoop house is closed and tight it will keep most bugs out.  It's like a nice protective house that keeps those predators away.  However, always put down an organically certified slug bait.  You don't want to trap those suckers in and if you garden in the Northwest you know what problems they cause. 
  3. Animal damage prevention.
    Nothing is worse than waking up to find damage from animals to your garden.  Animals are naturally drawn to home gardens and a hoop house is a nice environmentally friendly way of keeping them in their place.  I have lots of animals in my yard and it keeps them out.  Deer, rabbits, squirrels, cats, and other dogs just find it too much of a bother. 
  4. Extends your growing season. 
    If you gardened and harvested only when the seasons naturally allowed you wouldn't harvest very much.  Our really active growing season in my area is really only 4-5 months long.  My cucumbers are not going to make it another month and cold weather, rain, and frost can damage plants that need extra time.  I have children who keep me busy and I often get distracted from my garden.  Hence often I plant veggies too late and I need my hoop house to add another month or so it's not a total loss.
  5. Protects plants from wind, snow and hail storms.
    The weather in the Northwest is fickle.  It will be scorching one day and then a storm will roll in and if you're not prepared will ruin your new starts.  Sometimes I leave my hoop house up during the winter and harvest lettuce/greens when it is really cold.  Traipsing through the snow to pick some fresh arugula or kale is pretty cool.  And we all know how fresh veggies from your garden are WAY better for you than anything bought from a grocery store.  
Now that you know some of the benefits of a hoop house here are a few not-so-great things to be ready for when having a hoop house. 
  1. They NOT winning any beauty contests.
    Now I love a lush looking garden as much as the next girl and hoop houses are a bit unsightly.  People might complain especially if your garden is in front of your house.  However, a hoop houses benefits far outweigh its lack of beauty.  Don't worry, once you start harvesting some great looking produce your hoop house will look a lot prettier.  It's a good idea to share a bit of that produce with a cranky complaining neighbor.  Free food makes everyone happier.
  2. Sometimes they get too hot.
    This is usually a problem in climates that are really hot and for people who use plastic sheeting.  I prefer frost blankets because they breathe and allow air to circulate.  They rarely get too hot here in the northwest.
  3. They can get too damp in the early Spring and late Fall
    This also doesn't tend to be a problem with frost blankets but if you overwater it can cause problems.
  4. You will need to set up a watering system inside.
    Once a hoop house is up you are not going to want to disturb it unless you are harvesting, weeding or planting something new.  A watering system for your garden is a good idea anyway.  I use soaker hoses that are laid down on the dirt and held in place with metal ground staples.  Then I attach a regular garden hose to the soaker hose and then connect the garden hose to a spigot with a timer.  These are really cheap and take the energy out of watering. 
  5. Once your plants sprout flowers you will need to open them up to allow bees to pollinate
    This never takes very long and be sure to close it up during the night.  The bees go to bed and the nasty bugs are on the prowl.  Remember prevention is the key to keeping chemicals out of your organic garden.
These are the soaker hoses I was talking about.  Always plant around the hoses.

Now, let's stop beating around the bush and get started.  Remember hoop houses are not hard but they require a bit of planning and preparation.  Just like with cooking get all your "ingredients" ready before you begin.  Here's what you will need to make a replica of my hoop house. 
  • A huge roll of black polyvinyl  tubing. 
    I got mine at Hardware Sales and it was only about $30.  That was more than enough tubing for two large raised beds.
  • 8 pieces of 12" rebar.
    They sell in in packs of 16 at Hardware Sales.  I can't remember how much it was, but it wasn't expensive.
  • A very large package of frost blankets (aka Crop Blanket). 
    My hoops measured about 9ft long for each one so I needed something that wasn't carried in our local stores.  I also needed a frost blanket to be hanging over the edges of my hoop house.  Always error on the side of having extra material.  Because I wanted to purchase my supplies as locally as possible, I found that I could order most of my supplies from Charley's Greenhouse and Garden.  They have a local store in Skagit Valley, WA ,but their online store is incredible and has a much larger selection.  The blanket I got was 12 X 25 and I cut it to fit the house the way I wanted. 
  • A couple of packages of metal ground staples.  You will need these to hold the blanket into the ground.
  • A hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • A hacksaw
  • About 16 snap clamps.
    These clamps are brilliant and snap on to connect the frost blanket to the hoops.  Always get more than you think you will need.  Snap clamps will disappear when you want to use them and are the missing socks of the garden world. They are also easily removed when you need to get back into your hoop house and they are very durable. 
Before I tell you how to make this hoop house let me tell you that I had a bit of help.  Rather I had some muscle working with me on this project.  My husband helped me finish some of the manual labor when I either got sore or tired.  What a nice guy huh? 
Measure and lay the rebar out first before you hammer them into the earth.
Once you have all your supplies pick up your hammer and rebar and place them where you want them to go into the ground.  I used four rebar on each side and kept them about 4" outside of my raised bed.  Do the same for the opposite side of the bed.  Once you are satisfied with their placement hammer those puppies halfway into the ground.  You want them sticking up about 6" off the ground.
You need to leave some space.  The tubing is going over these.
Try to line them up.  It doesn't have to be perfect.
Next you will need to figure out how tall you want your hoop house to be.  I wanted mine about 3 feet tall because most veggies get pretty huge.   Then take the tubing and cut off the size that you want with the hacksaw.  Use that tubing you just cut as a template to measure and cut 3 more hoops.  Then slide the polyvinyl tubing over the rebar.  You should have one tube for each end and two in the middle.

This is a good time to take a break. 
The next big aspect of making a hoop house is putting on your "roof."  My hillside gets very windy so I need to make sure it will withstand high winds.  Frost blankets are better for my needs than plastic sheeting because the air doesn't get too trapped and it is less likely to blow away. 

To connect your blanket to the hoops first drape the blanket over the hoops.  Use a few snap clamps to keep the blanket from blowing or sliding away.  Then cut the blanket to size.  Error on the side of leaving extra material.  Remember you want it to be hanging WAY over all the edges.

Snap more snap clamps over the blanket and connect to the tubing.  I use about three per tube.  One in the middle and two almost halfway down the sides. 

Finally gather the extra frost blanket in bunches, slip through the metal ground staples, and hammer into the ground.  Do your best to keep the frost blanket bound tightly around the base of the raised bed.  The more secure it is the better it will do it's job. 
This is the closed hoop house.  This is what they are supposed to look like. 
Please notice the difference between the two hoop houses that I created.  One is closed at both ends while the other is open.  I would like to tell you that one of them is open because I chose for it to be that way, but the reality is that I just ran out of material.  I will be ordering more in the next few weeks.  Mistakes happen.  Don't get too discouraged.  Just go with the flow and keep trying.

Well, that's pretty much it.  This type of a hoop house is very flexible and very inexpensive.  You don't need to buy an pricey kit and yours can be as small or as large as you want it.  You can put one around a raised bed or right into the ground around a small vegetable bed.  I have even seen people put them over a single plant!  Once you have more practice you can put one of them up in about 15 minutes.  Keep working at it and make it work for you and your garden.

Here are some more close-ups of materials that I ordered from Charley's Greenhouse and Garden. 
Anchoring pins.  They are also known as metal ground staples. 

Hint:  Get a big Ziploc bag to hold the snap clamps.  The frost blanket (aka crop cover blanket) starts out neatly folded but it can turn into a mess if your not careful. 

Anyone of you out there thinking you might try this soon?  What other ways do you protect your plants from upcoming frost?