Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How To Dry Corn

Farmer John (that's really what he goes by), was selling the last of his corn crop from the bed of his pickup last week. I had to stop.

Corn, as any historian, commodity trader, or foodie can tell you, is... necessary. Experts speculate over 4,000 products in our grocery stores have corn or corn products as an ingredient. And the more corn we relegate to ethanol production, the more scarce and expensive corn is getting.

The Story of Corn is getting wild. Which is one reason why I shook Farmer John's hand and gave him a heartfelt thank you.

Yes, the price was too good to pass up. But what is a girl to do with 10 pounds of fresh, kernel corn? (I already have some canned. I already have a bit more stored.) Well, I'll tell you: channel my inner Pilgrim and Indian and dry it.

Here's how:

Set a large pot of water on to boil. Wash your kernels to remove any silk and sediment - especially if the corn's straight out of the garden. Once the water is boiling, blanch the corn (let it hang out in the boiling water) for about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain. (For me, that meant dumping it all out on a bit of cheesecloth, gathering up the corners, and letting it drip out over the sink. Of course, I dumped a bunch in the sink. A colander would be helpful here.)

Spread your blanched corn on parchment lined cookie sheets and pop it in the oven at 200 degrees F for roughly two hours. Maybe more, maybe less. In truth, mine took about 4 hours and I had to stick a wooden spoon in the oven door to prop it open and vent the steam. But it was a chokingly humid day. This is Texas.

Remove corn from oven once it's shrunken and leathery-crisp. It will have reduced dramatically in size as the moisture evaporates. Let cool and store in sterilized, airtight jars or plastic bags. (I vacuumed sealed most of mine.) Stored in an airtight, moisture-free, dark environment, this should keep at least five years.

To use, rehydrate one cup of kernels in two cups boiling water. Use in casseroles, soups, and side dishes. Make Cheddar Corn Chowder. Grind to cornmeal and make cornbread, stuffing, or polenta. Yum.

Wishing you and yours a bountiful, meaningful Thanksgiving. -Brin

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
-Psalms 100:4-5

Monday, November 22, 2010


I went for a walk yesterday over chilled, spongy hills. Grasses, the color of Thanksgiving, leaned in the foggy wind. They seemed alive, somehow, marching in from the four corners of the hills to huddle together, a congregation united.

As it turns out, another job - one I'd been hoping for, actually - materialized before I'd ever lost the one that's kept me stressed since January. I finalized the deal on Friday. I'm in the oil and gas brokerage business; in short, I find land and mineral (oil and gas) owners for domestic oil companies and help smooth out the legalities so the two can ink an agreement to drill. It requires endless travel, endless complications. I dislike it in the way a child dislikes the home he wants to run away from: you want to leave, but where would you go?

I'm off to Kansas after Thanksgiving. Instead of grumbling that I'll be in a hotel, miles away from home during the holidays, I'll be thankful: I have a job. God is good no matter where I am.

I was thinking today of all the folks who are out of work, who aren't finding jobs despite long, ego-beating searches. And I was thinking that I want to hear their stories. I'm not the compassionate God - I can't shoulder your burden - but maybe if we all huddle together... if we trudge up the hills from the four corners and congregate together... together we can help lighten loads.

So here's the deal: if you or someone you know is really struggling financially, I want to hear about it. We want to listen, to encourage, to pray. Everyone, please pitch in. This is my front porch, and we'll all rock and share and have a good cry and come away, lighter than before. Comment here, anonymously if you'd like. Tell your story; share your burdens. And in two weeks, we'll meet back here and read through the stories and figure out a way to stand together and brave the wind.

Blessings- Brin

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How To Make Vanilla Extract

Been down the baking/spice aisle lately? Seen those prices?

(Know how deadly heart disease is? I believe sticker shock has contributed to more cases of heart disease than we realize. Someone should look into that.)

But back to the baking/spice aisle. Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract at home for... considerably less than you pay for those tiny bottles in the store?

You can. Here's how.

First, know this: vanilla extract is essentially vanilla macerated in alcohol. That's fancy talk for "you float vanilla beans in vodka, let it sit, and call it vanilla extract". And that's what you do. Take alcohol (vodka or rum, usually), add vanilla beans, let it age in a cool, dark place, and you're set.

Yes, it may seem like you're ending up with a lot of vanilla. So bottle some up in little bottles and give it away for Christmas. Or better yet, bake tons of goodies with it and give those away for Christmas.

Just think of the lives you may save and friends you may make.

How To Make Vanilla Extract

3 cups alcohol (vodka or rum)
6-8 vanilla beans (depending on size)
Jars or bottles with tight-fitting caps or lids

1. Sterilize jars, if using. Or use the bottle the alcohol comes in, as I did here.

2. With a sharp knife, beginning about an inch from the top, split the vanilla beans lengthwise in half.

3. With clean hands, stuff vanilla beans in jar or bottle, taking care to cover the beans completely with alcohol.

4. Give the jar a good shaking, then place in a cabinet in the coolest part of your kitchen.

5. Let the vanilla beans do their thing for about 6 weeks. Shake your jars or bottle every week or two. Vanilla will be ready to use in 6-8 weeks. Yay you!

Now some facts: Assuming you use sterilized jars and fresh beans and store your stash in a cool, dark place, your vanilla extract should be good indefinitely. Do not try to can this, as alcohol is extremely flammable. When you start running low, simply add more beans and alcohol to your bottle and keep going. If you can taste the alcohol after 6-8 weeks, allow your jar to cure a few weeks longer... the alcohol taste will evaporate. And no, you can't use water in place of vodka or rum; alcohol acts as a preservative and takes care of any contamination worries.

Happy holiday baking! -Brin

Still More...

 ...going up in that jumble sale of fantastic-ness in the name of ordering my cabin kit. I'll continue posting treasures - like this Kelly Rae Roberts print! - through tomorrow.

Dang. The Farmer's Egg Crate from Anthropologie. I did really want that... :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Making It All Add Up

I've added a jumble of beautiful things to be auctioned off, cheaply - ridiculously cheaply - for the last few dollars I need for the cabin kit. Gulp. It's for the exterior only... all the interior will be left up to me. Gulp again.

 Some things from Freeman House are up on the auction web floor. Things I adore but won't have room for. Freeman House? Giant cocoa mug. Cabin? Doll tea cup. I'm saying goodbye to lots of things...

 But hello to a flower meadow. And a brook. And a cherry tree.

The sale's over here if you're interested, and I'll be adding to it through Wednesday. 

I'm back tomorrow with pre-Thanksgiving baking secrets that will astonish you. Can't wait. -Brin

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Window Into My... Brain

My habits (obsessions) of late: making my own cheddar cheese. Sewing thick quilts for the cabin. And reading everything I can find on the reality of quantitative easing.

I'm an exciting gal, eh?

Guess that's why today has me so nervous. Quick, somebody hand me some homemade cheese to gnaw on...

I look at this Laura George piece often. Isn't it fabulous? Only I want one the way Jesus put it: when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Secret of Contentment

I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty...

I have learned the secret of being content
in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or in want:

I can do all this through Jesus Christ
who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:12-13