Saturday, September 29, 2012

Baking with Blackstrap Molasses

Our family loves molasses cookies! It's hard to find molasses in Honduras, however, and when you do find it, you pay dearly for it. Last year Allen was able to put a number of jars of molasses on our annual shipping container. Since molasses doesn't go bad on the pantry shelf, this is a nice item to have stockpiled.

Some of the jars Allen bought contained the golden molasses I'm used to using, but some said they were "Blackstrap Molasses." Since Rachel and I aren't used to using this variety of molasses, I did a bit of internet research, and found that blackstrap molasses has a stronger taste, and can be a bit more bitter than regular molasses.

Rachel was baking molasses cookies this week, so I asked her to make two separate batches, using the regular molasses in one batch, and then using the blackstrap molasses (very carefully) in the other batch, so that she could figure how much of each was needed to acquire the same (or similar) taste in a recipe that was otherwise exactly the same.

Her results? She used 3/4 cup of regular molasses in one batch, and 1/2 cup of blackstrap molasses in the other batch, to get the tastes to match fairly closely. She did not adjust any of the other ingredients. The two batches of cookies looked slightly different. The ones using golden molasses had a bit of a golden color to them, while the blackstrap variety had a darker, grayish tint. The flavor was also slightly different. My taste testers inform me that the blackstrap cookies have a bit more of a "bite" to them, but that it's a "good bite." So, now you know.

Oh, and this post was supposed to include pictures of the cookies . . . but when I went to take a picture, they were all gone! Sorry about that!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


My current puppy is a mostly-lab named Nutmeg. Lots of puppies come and go, but Nutmeg was a keeper! She was born back in February, so she's around 7 months old now. Here are a few of my favorite shots of her cute puppyhood (most recent photos in this batch are about 3 months old, and some are of better quality than others ):

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's time to garden - September Garden Update

It has taken me some time - years, really - to figure out how the seasons work up here in the mountains of Lempira, and how that should influence our attempts at gardening. It doesn't help that I'm a complete novice gardener, without even a good working knowledge of which plants like cooler weather and which enjoy the heat, which would thrive with lots of rain and which would handle the dry season without tons of help, etc. It has been a slow, tedious process.

I learned last year that there is too much rain during the rainy season for most of my vegetable plants, in spite of our having planted them in raised beds that drain well. I watched a lovely, healthy patch of bush beans turn yellow and fall over last July, and I determined to wait until late in the rainy season to plant my garden this year. Well, it's time to get going!

Since our attempt at planting special beans which would act as an organic fertilizer failed, we have added fertilizer to the garden, and worm compost AND hog manure, and stirred it all up. I hope this will result in a better harvest this year!

The weather in September and October is still rainy, so for now most of the work involves cleaning up in the garden, preparing the raised beds for planting, and starting plants indoors. Boo has planted beet and carrot seeds directly into the garden, but we might have jumped the gun with those. We'll see how they do. We're trying to start some tomato plants and some lettuce in the house, and Boo started two celery plants from the bottoms of a couple of stalks of celery we bought in San Pedro Sula. The last batch we did that way were eaten by some subterranean pest after growing nicely for a while. We're hoping for better results this time.

We already have about half a dozen bell pepper plants in the garden. These are perennials in this climate, if I can keep them alive. They are susceptible to  . . . something . . . that keeps eating off every leaf on every plant. With care, they come back again, but the plants are quite small and don't produce many peppers. Hmm, I think that's because they're using up all their energy just to stay alive!

Here are some of the amazingly resilient pepper plants, now inside of a little screened house

This is the largest pepper we have growing right now, and it is really weighing down its little plant!

This squatty, stunted pepper plant is blooming its heart out!

In addition to the peppers, there are a few other plants already growing in the garden:

This cantaloupe plant started itself from seeds in our worm compost. Although we didn't plant it, we're glad to have it - and it already has 5 melons growing on it!

Today Boo found flowers blooming on our healthy-looking sweet potato plants. These plants were started from some sweet potatoes we bought at the market, and which sprouted in the pantry.

This is the one surviving blackberry bush we have from the sticks we received from up on Green Mountain last year. Only two of the sticks ever sprouted, and one of those died during the dry season - but this one looks good. I wonder when it will be big enough to grow berries?

Yesterday, Boo and I planned out the rest of the garden planting. Neither of us are planners by nature, and our garden has not benefited by this aspect of our characters! We NEED some gardening success, and obviously thinking ahead more would be a good thing! It is my hope that, with the help of Boo and Josiah, we can get the entire garden (nine raised beds, each approximately 3' x 7') planted or ready to receive seedlings this week, as we head into what I hope will be the best gardening weather of the year for us.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Remember those earthquakes?

Early in August I wrote about experiencing a couple of minor earthquakes here. I didn't mention, at the time, that I checked one of the major Honduras newspapers for news of the second quake (to see if there had been any damage), and discovered that there had also been a small amount of volcanic activity in Guatemala the same day, and at nearly the same time. It did occur to me that the two events might be related . . .

You may have seen in the news that the "Volcan del Fuego" (Volcano of Fire) in Guatemala erupted today, with tens of thousands of people frantically evacuating from the area. Here's a link to a story about this eruption, in case you haven't heard about it.

The volcano is due west from us, about 350 miles away or so. We don't anticipate experiencing any difficulties here, although volcanoes are pretty hard to predict, I guess.

Another day, another new experience, right?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Do you really know how big that is?

If you're familiar with our ministry, and with the way Allen likes to run things, you already know that he's not one to shy away from a challenge! One of our annual challenges is trying to fill a 40' shipping container with donations each fall.

A 40' shipping container is huge. It's gigantic, and it holds a vast amount of stuff. We know this on a very personal level, because every year about half of the contents of a 40' shipping container is unloaded into our house!

But we realize that most normal people - that would be people who don't find themselves regularly emptying shipping containers into their homes - wouldn't likely have a good grasp of how much stuff fits into a container of this size. So, this morning, Allen and I sat down and worked out some examples to help you understand the enormity of this task.

A 40' shipping container has an interior space of 2540 cubic feet. You could fill this space with:

150 car trunks jam packed full of soft items (like clothing and bedding) . . . or . . .

the contents of 15 full-size commercial vans (with no back seats and no passengers), loaded full to the roof . . . or . . .

1250 large black plastic garbage bags, full to the brim (except for room to tie the bag shut) with soft items . . . or . . .

10,000 shoe boxes filled with Christmas gifts (or shoes) . . . or . . .

19,000 gallons of paint . . . or . . .

100,000 cans of Coke . . . or . . .

the contents of your average suburban 2 car garage, loaded to the rafters with NOTHING but items for in the container, and no pathways.

That's a lot of stuff.

Just for fun, here's a list of some of the strange things we've brought down in containers in the past. NONE of these items filled a container entirely, they were surrounded by other donations:

a 31,000 pound Caterpillar front end loader

a 15,000 pound John Deere backhoe

a 28,000 pound John Deere road grader

11 motorcycles, 2 all-terrain vehicles (4 wheelers)

a Kubota tractor and 14 generators

20 solar panels and 4000 pounds of batteries for our solar energy system

400,000 children's meals for use in our feeding centers

40 refurbished desktop computers (for Christian schools)

20 miles of steel cable for constructing hanging bridges

5 miles of PVC plumbing pipe

So what is the point of all of this? 

The deadline is fast approaching to get this container filled up! We're requesting donations of pre-made gift boxes, bulk items for use in creating gift boxes, and gently used clothing (nothing larger than size adult large, please) and bedding. Sweaters, jackets and blankets are especially appreciated.

You can find all the specific info you need, in order to take part in this project, on our Gifts for Gracias web page, and our Gifts for Gracias Facebook page. We're collecting in Florida and Maryland, and you can donate by mail or in person. The Florida mailing deadline is September 20th - just a short time away now! The Maryland mailing deadline is October 20th. In either location you could squeeze in an in-person delivery for about a week or so after the mailing deadline.

Won't you help us help them?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Another - BETTER - ham report!

We made ham again. You can check out the first ham report here, which involves the ham we brined for our Easter dinner. That ham was good enough, for ham-deprived individuals like ourselves, but we thought we could do better.

And we did!

Two weeks ago, it was decided that we would butcher two hogs on the same day. While Rachel and I knew that a butchering was in the offing before long, we didn't find out it would happen on that particular day until that particular day. The announcement of the immediate double-butchering event found both of us sickly with a cold/flu thing, the kitchen a mess, with the kitchen table literally sitting upside-down, legs in the air, and the freezer all disorganized and looking like no way was there room for adding in the meat of two largish hogs!

Of course, as always, we managed to overcome adversity (why we deserve quite so many opportunities to overcome adversity, I've never figured out) and we got the job done. We pulled lots of food out of the freezer and put it into coolers. We even found a few items that, frugal as we are, we couldn't condone putting back into the freezer. Anyway, we pulled out those three chunks of leg meat remaining from the previous hog butchering, and decided to go ahead and let them thaw out, brine them, and bake them up into hams. Then we could freeze up cooked ham meat for lots of future dinners! Obviously we didn't have time to deal with them on the same day as butchering, but they needed to thaw for a few days anyway, so that worked out fine, and also opened up some prime freezer space!

After the meat was thawed, which took a few days, we mixed up the brine and set it to soak. Rachel made some additions to the solution, to improve the flavor from last time. We didn't have room for three hams in the fridge, so we set this all up in a 5 gallon bucket, and then had to remember to keep freezing soda bottles full of water, and switching ice bottles in and out of the bucket to keep the meat cold. For a week.

But it was worth it!

Yesterday we pulled out the meat, rinsed it off, and baked it. This time, the meat met our expectations. There's nothing we want to change or improve for next time. We had a delicious ham dinner at our house, Russell and Iris had a delicious ham dinner at their house, and there's leftover ham in our freezer for future delicious meals.

No question at all - we make ham at our place!

* A note for people who know terms: the word "ham" officially refers to the meat of the upper back leg of a hog. We made brined hams and brined pork shoulders (from the front legs). In my non-butchering suburban past, I learned to use the word "ham" to mean a delectable salty sweet meat made from pork, with no regard for what part of the animal was used. In this post I used the word "ham" as I did in my childhood, to mean salty sweet pork meat. I wanted you to know that I do know the correct usage. I just don't care enough to make myself use the word correctly right now. LOL

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Where do the Gifts for Gracias go?

I thought it might be interesting for you to see some pictures from the distribution of the Gifts for Gracias presents in past years, to give you an idea of where the gifts end up. I intentionally left the backgrounds in these photos, instead of zooming in on specific people and faces, so you could get a look at the houses and surroundings. You might want to click on the pictures so that you can get a better look.

There's still time to contribute to this project! We need pre-made gifts for children or families, donations of used clothing and bedding, items purchased in bulk (like school supplies, toiletries, etc), and funds to help offset the cost of shipping. Please check out the Gifts for Gracias page and see where you can chip in!

Thanks so very much!!!!!