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It’s Way Too Early

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I know, I know. It’s wayyyy too early to start thinking about Valentine’s Day.

 

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But I went to the store the other day and all the cute little candy hearts and pink squirt frosting and sprinkles were out.

 

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So today I made chocolate cupcakes (the best recipe EVER is on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa!) and let the kids go at it.

 

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It was fun seeing what they came up with. And of course the Cotton Husband had to have a “contest” – seems like everyone was 1st in one category or another though.

 

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Some of the kids showed great restraint …

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and good taste.

 

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But some…

 

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did not. Right now she’s alternately pulling out every toy in the playroom and wrestling her sister to the ground. She should crash in an hour or so, right?

January 15, 2009 - 7:27 pm

Blondie - Oh she’ll crash in an hour alright. And then wake up 3 hours later whining! LOL! Have fun!

Brings back a lot of sugar filled memories!

January 15, 2009 - 7:34 pm

bitca - That last one is comedy gold. I have pictures of both the kids during/after they’ve eaten raspberries. They look like they’ve eaten brrrraaaains.

That’s what your pic reminded me of. :D

January 15, 2009 - 10:07 pm

kat - I am a sugar addict and I have fond memories – some not so distant! – of squirting that canned icing in my mouth until it was full. Wish I had some right now; guess that can of rediwhip will have to suffice.

January 15, 2009 - 11:28 pm

Jemm - Those are so cute! We are actually in full Valentine mode at the flower shop now so I think your timing is perfect!

January 16, 2009 - 12:28 am

Kath - How much fun that must of been!!! I love Valentine colors- red, pink, and white! So pretty!

January 16, 2009 - 10:30 am

thecottonwife - Yes, Bitca… but those are raspberries – HEALTHY food!! Food that good mommies offer! :)

I love Valentine’s colors too – last year I found this little bowl-type thing at Target. It is dark pink and red with brown accents. It ended up being the inspiration for Peanut’s nursery.

– Jennifer

January 16, 2009 - 10:58 am

Kath - Do you have ice coming out of the faucet? One blog I read from the South said that. Oh my goodness!

Stay warm!

Have you ever shared pics of Peanut’s nursery? Sounds super cute!

January 16, 2009 - 1:45 pm

Carin - I had better not show this to my boys! You’re a great mom to let them do that.

January 16, 2009 - 3:51 pm

RazorFamilyFarms.com - I LOVE it!

Restraint and cupcakes do not mix. They should not mix!

January 16, 2009 - 3:52 pm

Hena Tayeb - That shot with her face in the cupcake…wow..that is just to die for…
I can only imagine the fun you had cleaning up..

http://www.henatayeb.blogspot.com

January 16, 2009 - 4:16 pm

thecottonwife - Oh lordy, the cleanup. The CLEANUP!!! I wish we could have done this all outside on a picnic table!

- Jennifer

January 17, 2009 - 3:57 pm

thecottonwife - I’ll have to try to find pics of the nursery. I sure can’t take any now that she’s here – onesies and blankets and STUFF everywhere!

- Jennifer

January 19, 2009 - 3:26 pm

Shirley - Looks like a good time. Never too early to start getting ready for valentines day.

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An Alternative to Photoshop

I don’t mean to be mean. I’m sure Photoshop is great, blah blah blah. But it doesn’t work for me – I’ve used it… the full version. And guess what? I didn’t think it was all that it’s hyped up to be. And it wasn’t very user-friendly. It’s also not budget-friendly. I don’t know about you but if I have an extra $600-$700 lying around it’s most likely earmarked for a kid’s dentist appointment, new tennis shoes, jeans without holes in the knees, car repairs … or quite possibly it’s my entire budget for Christmas.  Spending that kind of cash on Photoshop is just not going to happen.

If you find yourself in the same boat, I’m going to talk again about the FREE (!!!) program I found – available by download – called Photoscape. It might not work for everyone. If you regularly shoot spreads for Vogue magazine, this might not be your cup of tea. But it’s mine. I love it.

Here are some effects I’ve used on random pics of the kids using Playdoh.

(Note: All photos were resized to a width – or for vertical photos, a length- of 500 for faster upload. If you do this but also want to print out the photo, keep the original size saved!)

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This is the original. It needs a little sharpening… a little um, boost is maybe the word we’re looking for?? So I upped the saturation a little.

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It’s subtle but I think it works.

 

 

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The original.

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I used a film effect on this one called Crossprocess. It gives a photo kind of a vintage-y feel and in the case of this particular effect, it bumps up the color.

 

 

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The original.

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Simple. I changed it to black and white. I also brightened it a bit and added contrast. You get to choose low, medium or high. Or you can do this manually. Just click around in the program for a couple hours – everything is easy to figure out. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, you might come up with something really cool!

 

 

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Original.

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I used “Antique Photo” on this one. It’ll make the photo look old AND you can choose whether to keep it in color or change it to B&W or sepia – all in the same process.

 

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This one needs some color.

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All I did was “boost” the saturation. If the color were too red (like it is a LOT for my redheads) then I would go to “Remove Color Cast” and take out some of the red while still leaving vibrant yellows or blues or greens.

 

 

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Original.

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This is another film effect called “Agfa”. I love it. It gives such a soft, worn-in-old-jeans feel to a photo.

 

There are so many more things that Photoscape can do – add some blur, even add grain for that urban, gritty look. Darken, brighten, deepen, decolor (and gues what… that’s what they’re called on Photoscape. User friendly, isn’t it?). Play around with it (you haven’t lost anything, right?) and see what you think. It makes me sad to see people lamenting that they can’t do things with their photos because they don’t have Photoshop. Try Photoscape for yourself and discover all the things you can do!

Then send me the links to your photos so I can see ‘em!:)

January 15, 2009 - 1:12 pm

St. Fairsted Farm - I didn’t plan on playing today (LoL) but I’ve downloaded photoscape and find myself amazed what all can be done for “free.” Very cool! Thanks again! Here is an enhanced photo of a chick-http://www.flickr.com/photos/st_fairsted/3198811631/

January 15, 2009 - 1:17 pm

thecottonwife - Look at that teeny little chick!! I love what “Bloom” did for her (him?).

Thanks for sending that!

- Jennifer

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Biscuits ‘N Gravy

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I know what you might be thinking.

“Who has time to make biscuits and gravy in the morning?”

But hear me out… think about making this for supper. It’s cold, it’s dark and you want something without a lot of fuss. Biscuits and gravy make the perfect low-fuss, cold-weather meal. Trust me. Also? It’s cheap (ahem… frugal). You probably have all of this in your pantry right now.

 

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Start with 5 cups of SIFTED flour. It’s important that you sift the flour first or the biscuits will be too heavy.

Then add 1 tsp of salt and 1 heaping tablespoon of baking powder to the flour. Mix well.

 

 

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Mix in 1/4 cup of very, very cold lard. You can use butter, I guess but lard gives pastry this unmistakable flaky texture that can’t be duplicated.  Use your hands to work the lard into the flour. You want some of it to be coarse like meal but to also have larger chunks (like 1/4 inch in size) floating around in there.

 

 

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Next… 1 1/4 cup of milk. Most recipes call for buttermilk but I never keep it on hand. I think you can make it with regular milk and maybe… lemon juice? I don’t know – I just use plain ol’ milk. Stir just until it’s almost cohesive. Don’t overmix or the biscuits will be tough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and very gently knead 4-6 times. GENTLY! Then roll out to about a 1/2 inch thickness with a rolling pin. If you don’t have a rolling pin, patting it out will do.

Then here is where the “tricks” begin…

 

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Using a fork, poke holes all in the dough (going all the way through). Mine are a little far apart – you want them about 1/2 an inch apart.

 

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Using a biscuit cutter, a glass or a mason jar lid cut out the biscuit rounds. But don’t don’t don’t TWIST the cutter. This seals the dough and prevents it from rising. I didn’t always know this and I had some sorry lookin’ biscuits to show for it. Third tip – place the biscuits on the pan so that they juuussstt touch.

Don’t reroll the extra dough – just place it on the pan. The kids will like the shapes and you (for once since becoming a parent) will get to eat the nice, round, perfect biscuits instead of the stuff that turns out imperfect.

These will go into a 500 degree oven for about 10-12 minutes.

Let’s get started on the gravy. Mmmm… gravvvvyyyyy.

 

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This is my best friend in the kitchen. I can do without fancy kitchen gadgets (I prefer to be without those, actually) or the latest in stainless steel but I gots to have my bacon grease.

Pour some of this into a skillet… about enough to cover the bottom of the pan – more if you have a big family.

 

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Get it hot using medium heat. Bacon grease has a high smoking point so don’t be afraid to get it really hot.

 

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Next, throw in some flour. Use enough to cover all the bacon fat… start slow and keep adding. You can always add more but you can’t take it out, ya know! Stir it all around using a fork, a whisk, a metal spatula or whatever you like. Get all the lumps out of the flour.

Don’t leave it alone…. keep stirring it until it’s nice and brown like this:

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Turn the heat down to low and add milk. You don’t want to scald the poor milk, for heaven’s sake.

 

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Keep stirring until the milk heats up and you have no more lumps. Only add enough milk to get nice, thick gravy like this. Pour a little at a time until it’s just like you want it.

 

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In the meantime, your biscuits are golden brown and flaky. LOOK at those flakes, would ya! Feel free to devour one with butter.

 

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I like to break the biscuits apart and pour the gravy over. Yummmm.

 

To really make this a meal, add some browned sausage to the gravy and serve it all with a side of scrambled eggs.

I just love breakfast for supper, don’t you?

January 13, 2009 - 4:16 pm

Barbara - Had breakfast for supper last night! I do love it-especially when it’s cold outside!! Yours looks so delicious!

January 13, 2009 - 4:25 pm

Judi in Pa - Um, um, um…Jennifer, will you marry me?

January 13, 2009 - 5:14 pm

RazorFamilyFarms.com - Oh yum! I LOVE it! This timeless classic is one delicious rib-sticking meal. Lovely photos and great tutorial!

Love it! I also love that you use so much venison. We do too! We had venison beef enchiladas just last night!

Blessings!
Lacy

January 13, 2009 - 5:14 pm

RazorFamilyFarms.com - I meant to say instead of beef. Not sure what happened.

January 13, 2009 - 5:32 pm

CrossView - I popped over from Lacy’s when you mentioned biscuits. ;o)

Thanks for the tutorial. LOL! I’ve found two things I’d been doing wrong. And now I just may try again. Though Grands may be saddened by that news….

January 13, 2009 - 5:39 pm

thecottonwife - Let me know how they turn out, Crossview!

January 13, 2009 - 7:35 pm

Jensamom - I love breakfast for dinner in the cold, dark days of winter. This looks yummy!

January 13, 2009 - 8:35 pm

St. Fairsted Farm - Biscuits & Gravy are one of my favorites. The only problem I have with them they seem to stick to my thighs…LOL

January 13, 2009 - 9:48 pm

Carin - Mmmmmm I’m coming over to your place for dinner. Yes, I love breakfast for dinner!

January 13, 2009 - 9:57 pm

thecottonwife - It’s the hips over here, St. Fairsted! I can’t blame those on pregnancy, unfortunately. :(

- Jennifer

January 14, 2009 - 12:44 am

Matriarchy - Drooling on the keyboard here. I swore to learn to make biscuits this year. So far, I only made drop biscuits, which came out pretty good, but I fear the rolled out ones. But I want them so much! I have the lard standing by, and a bag of White Lily flour. My DD15 is an expert gravymaker. I am going to the PA Farm Show tomorrow, and when I get back, I am makin’ biscuits for dinner!

January 14, 2009 - 2:05 am

Blondie - Oh man I’ve been missing out! I’ve never had biscuits and gravy in my life!

I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in the big city!

I do like breakfast for supper though! For me that would be a Veggie Omelet and a couple strips of bacon. YUM!

January 14, 2009 - 2:12 am

Karen - We had french toast tonight. I too, love breakfast for dinner. I have never had a true homemade biscuits. I think it is time to try. :) Thanks for the how to.

January 14, 2009 - 8:39 am

Kath - My boys love biscuits and gravy! So I make it for dinner once in a great while. We like it with green beans.

January 14, 2009 - 8:57 am

kat - Every morning my Nanny would get up and make lard biscuits. Nothing like ‘em with cheese (real wheel cheddar) eggs. By the afternoon we could play baseball with the cold biscuits! You are truly a southern cook. Good thing CH works hard on the farm with all that good, fattening stuff you make.

January 14, 2009 - 2:01 pm

Linda - New to blogging, the biscuits and gravy also brought me to yours. Love it BTW. I do have one simple, maybe lame, but important question….the whole bacon grease thing, how long does that stay good, do you keep it in the fridge. I know my mother always had grease in a cute little silver tin thing with a strainer on top. I actually found one at a flea market and thought that was just the greatest thing, but have never used it. I am the worse cook ever and I love the pictures to lead me.
My family might just be impressed since I do gravy from a packet.
Thanks

January 14, 2009 - 2:41 pm

thecottonwife - A lot of people (especially younger people) keep bacon grease in the fridge but I keep mine on the stovetop… so far so good! It gets used up regularly though, so there’s always fresh grease there. Hope that helps! (And it was NOT a lame question!!)

I’m jealous of your tin – wish I had one!

- Jennifer

January 14, 2009 - 3:16 pm

Shirley - We make our biscuits and gravy the same way. I love when the roux browns. It gives the gravy such a nice flavor.

I don’t poke my biscuits with the fork. What is the reason, or is it just something you always do? I agree the lard makes them much more flaky and sifting the flour is very important.

And for some reason, I just really love cooking breakfast. Doesn’t really matter what time of the day.

When I hosted Conasta last time, I served breakfast.

January 14, 2009 - 3:30 pm

thecottonwife - Hmmm, Shirley. I thought I recalled reading the reason once upon a time, but now I can’t find it.

We play Conasta at the beach all the time!

- Jennifer

January 14, 2009 - 5:42 pm

Christy - o.k…I’m really hungry now!! I LOVE breakfast for supper!! I’ve never sifted my flour…maybe that’s my problem!! Thanks for the wonderful tutorial!! ;)

January 15, 2009 - 11:54 am

Kristi Smith - No fuss??? HA! To me, that is a lot of fuss. ;)

They look yum though. It is Grands for me. I tried making PW’s cinnamon rolls and they didn’t turn out that good. I hate wasting the effort when something doesn’t turn out good.

I will just enjoy looking at yours.

January 16, 2009 - 11:00 am

ellie K - My parents lived on a farm with plenty of fresh milk and bacon grease on hand. When my daughter was 8 or 9 my Mother started teaching her to make gravy by browning flour and adding the nice fresh milk to make sometimes lumpy and somtimes very good gravy. My Mother had a large cast iron skillet that they used and it made way too much gravy for 3 people to eat. They would sometimes make it 2 or 3 times a day. The farm dogs loved my daughters visits and the nice warm gravy over there meals. My daughter is 39 now and still remembers the great memory my Mother created for her. My Mother has been gone for 20 years but her gravy lives on. We still love our gravy and biscuits.

January 16, 2009 - 11:29 am

thecottonwife - That’s such a great story, Ellie K. Some of my favorite memories are related to food and learning how to cook. with my babysitter, my grandmas and of course, my mom. Thanks so much for sharing that!

- Jennifer

January 17, 2009 - 5:43 pm

Dana - I usually get my breakfast from the Bowmanstown Diner, a couple of miles away from the plant. All I have to do is cal and say, “I’m starving,” and they know what to fix: two eggs lookin’ at me, bacon, home fries, buttered rye toast and OJ.

Well, one day I decided to mix it up, and order biscuits and gravy — and they told they didn’t serve such a thing!

Damned Yankees!

January 17, 2009 - 5:55 pm

thecottonwife - Well, I declare (stretch “declare” out to at least four syllables)!!

January 17, 2009 - 6:50 pm

Common Sense Political Thought » Blog Archive » Some weekend linkage - [...] most importantly, Jennifer has the recipe for Biscuits ‘n’ gravy! Category: Blogging Matters  |  Comment (RSS) [...]

February 22, 2009 - 1:15 am

Saucy Sunday - Breakfast « Twisted Fencepost - [...] For another tutorial on how to make biscuits, check out The Cotton Wife’s instructions. [...]

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