Monday, January 31, 2011

Homemade granola bars

My daughter and I  recently made homemade granola bars. You might ask why we should make them when there are so many "good-for-you" granola bars on the market. The truth is, as we checked the list of ingredients on these products, they were so loaded with sugar, fat and calories we decided they really weren't so good for you after all. Many of them have glutens and candy added to make them taste better.

To make them healthier, we used more wholesome ingredients and made sure to exclude those things that contain allergens -- especially gluten and peanuts. Ours were lower in sugars, too. We used brown rice syrup and honey. Brown rice syrup was something I had never even heard of before. I was a bit surprised that the flavor was so mild -- kind of like sorghum syrup but milder, also not as sharp as honey. I know I will be using this sweetener more often.

The bars were really quite easy to make. First we mixed all the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

We used brown rice puffs with no sweetener. You can use any puffed rice cereal but this cereal was made from puffed rice. One-ingredient cereals are hard to find these days.

We mixed brown rice syrup, honey and vanilla flavoring then brought the mixture to a boil for ten minutes. We had to keep this mixture "stirred down." Sugars will easily boil over it you don't. This turns the sugars into a "candy coating" and causes the bars to harden and hold together.

After ten minutes we stirred in the almond butter, then poured it over the dry mixture.

We made sure the dry ingredients were well-coated.

And pressed the mixture into a stone cookie sheet with sides covered with parchment paper.

We pressed the mixture evenly into the pan by wetting our hands and patted the mixture until the air was removed and it was firm and ready for the oven.

We then baked it for about 15 minutes until it was browned around the edges. The mixture separated from the side of the pan a bit. After they had cooled about 15 minutes, but before they were hard, we cut it into bars. This was the hardest part. They were not as easy to cut as we thought they would be. Some of them, we had to shape a bit. Our goal was to make them look like commercial bars. They are kind of thick and they are quite chewy when done. We stored them in a large plastic container.

We considered the bars a success because our 5 year old even liked them. It is an accomplishment to get a five year old to eat anything that is even slightly healthy.

Homemade Granola Bars

1 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons almond butter
3-1/2 cups granola (We used Arrowhead Mills granola that was sweetened with fruit juices)
5 cups puffed rice cereal
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup chopped almonds or macadamia nuts
1-1/2 cups raisins

Substitutions to give your bars a different flavor: Peanuts or any kind of nut can be used instead of almonds or macadamia nuts. Peanut butter can be used for the almond butter. Unsweetened coconut can be used for the pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Dried cranberries can be used instead of the raisins.

In a 2 quart saucepan, combine brown rice syrup, honey and vanilla. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often so that mixture doesn't boil over.

Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Pour hot syrup over the mixture and stir until dry ingredients are well coated.

Line a 12" x 17" pan with sides with parchment paper. Press mixture into the lined pan, using wet hands.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees or until edges are lightly browned. Allow to cool for 15 minutes and remove baked bars using the parchment from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 36 bars. Store in a plastic bag or container.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More email newsletters

 Since I brought up the topic of email newsletters, I think I should expand on that theme and recommend a couple of really good gardening newsletters. Many of the newsletters I receive are just mini direct response ads for gardening tools and such, and I find it hard to weed through the ads to get to the tips, so I wouldn't recommend most of them.

The best newsletter with the greatest amount of gardening news, tips and helpful information is The Georgia Gardener by Walter Reeves who hosts the website and also a local radio show on WSB. I haven't listened to the radio show but I do enjoy the receiving the newsletters he sends out each week and I will say he has more tips, hints and ideas than any newsletter I have seen yet. The newsletter contains an email with links to the website. Are there ads? You betcha, but the ads are always off to the side and non-obtrusive. It is obvious that he really loves to help gardeners like me succeed. I don't really mind the ads, especially if the free info is good.

Reeves is a long-time garden enthusiast, raised on a farm in Fayette County, Georgia. In addition to his writing, and hosting the radio show, he also writes for the AJC and is probably one of the most respected garden experts in the southeast. I am impressed by all this but that is not as important to me as all of the helpful information I receive on his website -- which appears to be newly designed. I really love the seasonal calendar below. We gardeners always need that extra nudge, especially in the cool weather when we are vegging on the sofa with a cup of tea.

I also love that his advice is perfect for my zone or area of the US where I reside. I know when he recommends a seed, plant or gardening activity that it is actually the right time plant it and it will grow well in our climate. If he says, start your seeds, I know they will be ready for spring planting where if someone from Canada tells me that, I might wonder if I am a bit late for the mild Georgia seasons.

Another thing I like about Walter are the helpful pdfs that tell me how to build things like rain barrels, warming trays and helpful DIY gardening projects that don't cost an arm and a leg. I would love to have a rain barrel and he has multiple sets of plans. You have to appreciate a person who gives his plans and recognizes that other people have good solutions for things, too. Below are four sets of rain barrel plans I downloaded from
 Another newsletter I have enjoyed, though not as well, is Doug Green's Garden. He is an organic gardener and while he does have some good tips, I have to remember that his is gardening in Canada. He also has quite a few ebooks and helpful pamphlets that are only available if you pay for them. I am all for his making money and his ebooks are probably very good, but I would hate to pay big bucks to find that I could only grow the vegetable he recommends successfully in Winnipeg.

Still, I do like his website and his advice. I like the chemical-free style of gardening and I do look forward to reading what he has to say.

He also has YouTube videos to watch. Some are better than others but I like seeing things demonstrated. It helps me to know if I like his techniques.

That is the rundown. My gardening planning is in the early stages but with the helpful tips by these garden gurus I just may get some extra help this season.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A favorite newsletter

Every week I receive an email newsletter from It is one of my favorites even though I never quilt. I will admit that I was a bit troubled by the title and feel a little unworthy to receive this newsletter because I just don't quilt. I wish that I quilted but I just have never had the time to learn. I have worked on some quilting publications and even drawn some quilts, but I have never successfully quilted.

I did make a "machine quilt" one time. I had some extra scrap fabric pieces and cut them into equal squares and made a kind of a quilt for my husband. I also made a matching pillow for him. The problem was that it just fell apart in the wash and honestly, I was more than a little ashamed of my handiwork. It was sloppy and poorly done. My husband did like it, though. He thought it was sweet that I made him a quilt.

I think in light of these facts, it is odd that I like this newsletter so much. I think when I read the title, instead of feeling excluded, I add extra words to make myself a fit for this craft. To me it says "all people love quilts." I do love quilts. It also says "all people can quilt," which gives me hope for the future.

I know that since I do love quilts and have the possibility of quilting in the future, I can enjoy this newsletter because if I ever do learn to quilt, this is a website I will use often. It has free patterns and low-cost quilting lessons. You can find quilting materials and there are even patterns I could use as a non-quilter. So, this is for "all" of you quilters out there. Enjoy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pie. Me oh my!

Today is National Pie Day, 2011. I don't know who came up with that designation, but I will admit pie is one great American treat. My mother was always a great pie baker and I have often aspired to her greatness. I have almost always fallen a bit short, but I have had my moments.

I also think of the move, "Michael," where Andie McDowell sings a song about pie. According to WikiAnswers and Yahoo answers it goes like this.

The Pie Song

Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it's pie
an' wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you've got em'
Me o my
I love pie

It's my favorite part of the movie.

So in honor of the day, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite pie recipes from earlier blog posts. Probably the best is this baked chocolate pie recipe. It is yummy.

Then there is the blackberry cobbler recipe. Add any berries. I think this would make a great blueberry or cherry pie. Think of all the antioxidants you can get from a slice!

Happy pie day. Go ahead and have your favorite slice of pie.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Healthy, easy snack food

If you could invent a snack food that tastes like it has tons of fat, salt and additives but is really, really healthy, you would probably become the next overnight millionaire. I am not going to nominate this snack for the next new trend for snacking but it is healthy, very easy and even tastes good.

I like raw pumpkin seeds on salads and have tried oven-baking pumpkin seeds with little success but when my daughter ran across this recipe for toasted pumpkin seeds we decided to give it a try. I will say that toasting them certainly adds flavor and turns a rather dull tasking seed into a tasty, yet healthy alternative to more fattening and unhealthy "treats."

It was very easy to do, using a made for the microwave pan I have had for years, but had never used. I mixed up some spices with a little water, mixed in the pumpkin seeds and hit the button for four minutes. Above is how the mixture looks after four minutes.

This is how it looks after cooking two minutes more. I was concerned that the seeds might burn if I cooked them any longer so I stopped there. You could hear the seeds crackling for a while after the cooking was completed. They are ready for snacking. Careful, they can be addictive!

This recipe was adapted from a recipe from Seven Secrets Cookbook by Neva and Jim Brackett.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 tablespoon water
Scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (I used Whole Foods 365 packaged seeds)

Mix water, salt and onion powder in microwavable bowl (that has a cover). Pour in pumpkin seeds and mix well.

Cover and cook in microwave on high for 4 minutes. Remove from microwave, stir and cook another 2 minutes on high. Mine were done at this point but if you have a slow microwave, they may need to be cooked another minute or two. They will puff up and brown when they are completed. Allow to cool before eating.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Slow cooker oatmeal

I am always looking for something easy for breakfast that is healthy and will stick to with me longer than an hour or two. In fact, I think it's rather inconvenient to eat a healthy meal first thing in the morning! The only easy thing I have found, so far are green smoothies and they are too cold for me with the weather we have been having lately.

That is why I decided to try slow-cooking oatmeal with apples -- a very good combination and if you use old-fashioned oatmeal it is really a healthy breakfast. I based mine on a recipe by Robin Robertson. I changed it to add more apples and garnished it with walnuts and more raisins.

I realized that the photo is not very appetizing because honestly oatmeal is not an exciting color, but by adding cinnamon, raisins and tart apples it does make oatmeal a welcome dish that is ready when you are, first thing in the morning. Smells good while it's cooking, too.

It is important to use a crockpot that has a timer on it because this recipe takes 6 hours on low and 2 hours on the high setting. I think, if you increased the recipe by 1/2 you might be able to cook it for 8 hours on low and I am planning to try that, but I can't guarantee it.

I do think I will try this about once a week because it tastes kind of like oatmeal muffin -- not quite as sweet, but still quite tasty. I used some vanilla almond milk on mine, but I think yogurt would be nice with this oatmeal, too. Other garnishes -- seeds and nuts, ground flax seed, dried fruit, especially cranberries.

Here's the recipe:

Slow-cooker apple oatmeal

2-1/2 cups apples, peeled and chopped
4-1/2 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1/4 to 1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups water

Put apples, oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon and salt in a 4 quart slow cooker. Pour water over the top and cook for 6 hours on low, (Oatmeal and apples will be soft and well-cooked.) or cook on high for two hours for a chunky, less smooth oatmeal. Helpful hint: Use a slow-cooker liner for easy clean up.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Revisiting Charlotte Nelson's strawbale garden

In 2009, I introduced you to Charlotte Nelson who was beginning to garden using the straw bale method of gardening. That blog post is one of my most viewed posts to this day. You can view it here. When she emailed photos from her 2011 garden last week and asked if I would like to share more, I quickly said, "Of course!"

2009 was a very good year for gardening for Charlotte and because of that she enlarged her garden exponentially. Charlotte said, "The 2009 season was my "straw bale testing" year, and so in 2010, I increased my straw bales from 10 bales to almost 50.

"I call it my "lazy lady garden," due to the lack of digging and weeding, etc."

One thing I like about her method is now nice it looks in her yard, the grass is totally undisturbed. There is no tilling at all. Her lawn is beginning to green for the summer and is undisturbed.

I love her flowering trees. If you examine the wooded area closely (especially in the first photo). You can see flowering trees intermixed with the trees in the woods behind her straw bale garden.

This is a photo from her new section. Beautiful!

I do agree that her 2010 garden was even better than the 2009 one.

Another view. I like that she is planting marigolds in with the vegetable plants.

According to Charlotte, she had an abundant garden in 2010. I think it is one in which anyone would be enormously proud.

So what is Charlotte doing during this cold, icy weather? She said, "I am going through seed catalogs online in anticipation of the spring."

"The 2011 season is almost here and I am planning on more ideas for crops in the straw bales. I still had tomatoes in early November ... not to mention a boatload of different peppers and eggplant. I also created a small area for spinach and turnip greens to test and WOW, they did so well in the bales, too."

During the summer months, Charlotte sells her excess produce at the Surplus Vegetable Market at the Coweta Fairgrounds. I can't wait to see photos from 2011 because she certainly is an inspiration to me.

Instructions on how Charlotte created her first straw bale garden are still online here in case you want to know more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Browsing through seed catalogs

The last couple of days I have been nursing a cold while trying to stay off the ice that just won't melt off our sidewalks at home. To brighten my day, I have been looking through the seed catalogs I have been steadily receiving for a month or more in the mail. I have also received countless emailed seed catalog newsletters but they just aren't the same as a good old fashioned seed catalog.

These companies have been hard at work developing the next new thing for spring gardens and I want to know they insist I need, and what I will be missing if I don't buy their products -- right now. These books are a feast for the eyes and though my plants don't always look as good as in the pictures, it is time to sit in a cozy place and dream of spring and what can be accomplished as soon as the warm weather hits.

I have also been looking at photos from some old famous gardens. Above is a (rather fuzzy) photo of the Biltmore Estate garden, in North Carolina, that I took when their roses were not doing very well. I really wasn't taking the photo of the roses but the lavender hedge above the roses. I couldn't get very close to the lilacs but the their smell was everywhere and that is when I decided I wanted a lavender hedge of my own.

This photo is about two years old and though I have tried to grow lilacs, I haven't had any success at all. I have been trying to grow them from seed and I think I really need to buy plants. This year I plan to do just that, if I can find them. Evey time I come across this terrible photo, the scent of lilacs beckons me -- pretty silly, I will admit, but true.

I would love to have some roses but they are a flower that loves sun and I have a shady lawn. I do have a place where I think a few knockout roses might survive. I would have to cut down a hedge, but the roses would look so much better than the unfortunate hedge at the end of my driveway. I started to get them last year but it was a little late before I hatched the plan so I am all set to buy some this year and see how they grow.

 These next three photos were taken in LaGrange at Hills and Dales. That is a local garden that is very inspirational. The history of the garden and the loving care it receives is worth the trip for anyone who ventures there. I went a couple of years ago and I need to go back to see the house again because the upstairs has been opened. Best time to visit is in the spring when it is in full bloom. It is a beautiful garden.

They can make a simple pot of pansies look like a waterfall of color.

And the double wisteria are vibrant and lovely. I really love wisteria but it does bother my allergies.

This year we want to try some companion plantings in our garden to repel insects. We bought some alyssum to plant with our lettuce last year, and while it did attract bees, it didn't do much else but look pretty. That isn't a bad thing but herbs and marigolds will be something we focus on this year and I will keep that in mind while looking at my seed catalogs and trying to keep warm.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My 1920s or 30s-era dress ... I think

Yesterday I wrote about some of my hidden treasures in the midst of clutter. Today I want to show a dress that I have had for years that I consider a true treasure. It doesn't have any nostalgic value but I love it's artistry and style.

A relative gave it to me, really to my daughter years ago. She thought my daughter might appreciate the beauty of it and she really did. She would have worn it because it did fit her, but we realized after she tried it on that it was too fragile to be worn. At that point I decided to save it because it was a true antique and because I thought I might one day make a pattern from it, using the dress as a guide.

It is a dress made of lace with an under dress. Ruffles surround the bodice. After I examined it, I decided it is partially handmade and partially machine-sewn. The stitching is intricate and all of the seams are bound -- no raw edges on this dress. It does have what I think it a cleaning tag inside so I am thinking at one point it was professionally cleaned.

I think it was an ankle length evening gown. The front is a little shorter than the back and there are gathers, tucks, gussets and gores galore. I don't think this would have been an "easy-sew" project.

The back of the dress has a deep V in the back and closes with hooks and snaps.

The ruffles hang nicely after all these years.

There is an inverted V in the back and the fabric which gives the back extra fullness.

I thought the lace might have been discolored around the bottom but have since decided that the material is woven to have a lighter "border" around the hem.

 The front has gathers for the bust and is attached to form a high waist.

The simple inside "slip dress" is attached on the shoulders to keep them in place. Some of the stitching inside looks like handwork ...

And is fastened by a set of hooks and snaps. The snaps are very fragile and I have to take care in opening the dress because the thread could break.

Some of the dress here looks hand sewn.

The Vs in back allows for extra fullness and the back has plenty of "swing" while the front is pretty straight.
On the sides there is a gusset that adds fullness.

I think it is a beautiful treasure and from the information I received when I got the dress, I am thinking it could be from the 1920s, but it is hard to be certain. I am pretty certain it is at least 100 years old, or almost there. I can imagine it was a nice dress for dancing, but that is just me using my imagination.

I do know that the detail work is very nice and a good seamstress made this dress.

How do I preserve it from this point is a question I have been asking myself but I don't have any good answers. Sometimes sealing things in plastic is good, but not always. I do know I want to make a pattern first and then I may find a place that might display it.

I think it is a treasure. Got any tips or info? I would love to know more about it. My photos really do  not do it justice, in my opinion.