Simply Driftless bio picture
  • WELCOME!

    Welcome to Simply Driftless! My name is Rebecca and I'm so happy you are here. Joined by my husband Ben, we are on a journey towards a healthier, natural, DIY lifestyle... and we're trying to do it as inexpensively as possible.

    We have made our home in the beautiful Driftless Region of southwest Wisconsin. This area is full of local food and self-sufficiency and we're excited to continue our transition to this way of living.

Make Your Own: Easy, Delicious Coffee Creamer

Coffee drinkers, raise your hands.  This post is for you.

 

I love my coffee with lots of sweetened creamer.  The vanilla caramel stuff from the store?  It was a staple in our household for years.  Then one day I had an epiphany.   While grabbing a little container of creamer from a hotel coffee bar, I noticed it was called “Dairy Way Creamer”.  Then, in small letters, I saw it said “Does not contain dairy”.  Ironic, huh?  This happened around the time I was just starting to re-think our daily lifestyle… how much chemicals we were near, now naturally we were eating, and ways to improve our lives.

So I went home, did some research, and tweaked several creamer recipes to come up with my own.  After several months of constant “taste testing”, I’m happy to share my simple, delicious recipe.  🙂


Five Ingredients:

1% or 2% Milk  (skim or whole works, too.  This is just my preference for thickness of the creamer.)

Heavy whipping cream

Real maple syrup

Vanilla extract

Pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, etc)

 

 

Step 1:

In a small sauce pan, combine equal parts of milk and heavy cream.  To make it easy and dirty less dishes, I just pour in the cream then fill the same container with milk before adding to the pan.  Turn heat on medium or medium high.

 

Step 2:

Add vanilla and maple syrup.  This is usually done by my very specific measurement of “This looks like the right amount” while I pour it in the pan.  But today I measured it, just for you.  I used a small 8 oz carton of cream and the same amount of milk.  So I added 2 tsp of vanilla.  I added 4 tbsp (maybe a little more) of real maple syrup.

(In the past, I had some almond extract and added that in addition to the vanilla.  But I ran out last month and haven’t replaced it yet.  Also, when I’m out of maple syrup, I will improvise.  I’ve added local honey and/or sugar before.)

 

 

Step 3:

Add pumpkin pie spice.  I just add a dash or two to the top.  Stir the whole mixture occasionally.  As soon as it begins to steam, it’s done.  You do NOT need to boil this or heat more than a couple minutes.

 

Start to finish, this entire recipe takes less than 5 minutes and it lasts all week.  Yes, it takes slightly longer than opening the store-bought stuff but it tastes soooooo much better.  I’m not sure why I liked that non-dairy dairy creamer in the first place!  It’s cheaper and healthier, too.

 

I do try to use organic and local ingredients when possible, but for this batch I used regular store-bought milk and cream.  But you know what?  It’s still better tasting/nutritionally than fake creamer.

Um.  Please don’t mind my dirty stove.  I’m SO not a good housekeeper.   I have better things to do.  Like make delicious coffee creamer and share it with you guys.

 

 

Yummmm.  One of these times I’m going to experiment with a pumpkin spice version.  Or maybe a brown sugar/caramel version.   Any suggestions on a flavor?

October 6, 2012 - 6:44 pm

Karen M - The pumpkin spice version sounds fabulous. Apple cinnamon also sounds like a good idea.

The Art of “Thrifting”

This weekend I was heading home from a wedding in Minneapolis and stopped in Rochester, MN to stretch my legs and walk a bit.  What better place to walk around than a thrift store?  🙂

 

Yes.  I said it.  Thrift store.  In this case, it was Goodwill.  Now hear me out.  I do enjoy shopping.  I enjoy name brands and designers.  I also enjoy luxurious fabrics like silk, cashmere, wool, and real leather.  (And with that said, I really dislike polyester and other synthetics.)  In high school and college I worked for a retail store and spent most of my paycheck on clothes.   What I don’t like is the price tag that usually accompanies these luxury items.  So… I thrift.  And, honestly, my wardrobe is full of beautiful, high quality items that I paid a small fraction of the retail price for.

 

As I was walking around the store on Sunday, I came across this gorgeous red swing coat.

 

It was incredibly soft to the touch and I knew instantly that it wasn’t a cheap acrylic coat.  So I checked the label and noticed it was a wool/cashmere blend.  And once I tried it on, I knew it had to be mine.  Sweet.  I’d never heard of the brand, Louben, but Googled it once I got home.  Definitely not cheap.  This is the closest I could find by the same designer and it’s $400!  Louben Jacket

 

 

And, since I’m taking photos in my room, I can see a few more thrift finds so I will throw some extra photos into this blog post for good measure.

 

Last fall I was at the Viroqua Flea Market.  It’s an awesome two-story historic brick tobacco warehouse that has been turned into a flea market.  It’s hit or miss there but I’ve walked away with some amazing finds.  For example, while perusing a display of purses, I came across this beautiful leather handbag.  It’s a gorgeous, soft, supple brown leather.  The tags were STILL ON THE BAG! Retail price: $268.  It was marked $20 with an extra 20% off.  So I scored this bag for $16 which is 94% off retail.

 

 

 

And then there are my beloved throw pillows.  These are awesome.  Intricately embroidered (not screen-printed) with washable covers (a must for thrift store purchases) and down feather pillows… these are some seriously awesome additions to my room.  These are also from the Viroqua Flea Market and were less than $10 each.

 

 

Obviously these are just a few of my treasures from the last year but I’ve been thrifting for years.  Some friends think I  get lucky with my thrift shopping trips but the truth is that I just know how to dig.  Here are a few tips:

  1. Learn your fabrics.  It’s easy to pick out quality fabrics that will stand up to the test of time vs fabrics that will fade, pill, stretch, or any number of bad things.  Once you do this you can quickly sweep through the aisles and pause only when you see something that might work.  Otherwise, you could spend hours going through every single item on the racks.
  2. Don’t settle.  It’s tempting to buy a pair of name brand pants because you know they cost $150 in the store.  But if they are faded or too short, how are you going to fix that?
  3. Remember that the tailor is your friend.  🙂  I have found great lined wool dress pants with tags on them for over $120 that were slightly too long.  After buying them for $10, I paid a few more dollars for a local seamstress to hem them.  And that amazing pair of jeans that gaps in the back when you bend over?  Easy fix with a seamstress.  You’ll end up with the best fitting pair of pants you’ve ever had.  But again, if they aren’t great fabric and something you could keep for years, it probably isn’t worth it. I refuse to spend $20 to buy/hem pants that probably cost only $30 to begin with.
  4. Learn which stores frequently have nicer quality items.  Sometimes you need to go to nicer neighborhoods.  Sometimes you need to go to larger “chain” thrift stores that cover a large area.  In my area, there are Goodwill “regions” where they send their name-brand inventory to all of their stores… regardless of the neighborhood. Sometimes consignment stores have fantastic merchandise.  There is one in Madison, WI that specializes in designer items.  I picked up a Kate Spade wallet for about 75% off retail.
  5. If you really have time on your hands, try branching out.  I tried out a REALLY low-end thrift store where you buy clothes by the pound.  Seriously.  It’s where one chain of thrift stores sends all the stuff that doesn’t typically sell in their regular stores… sort of a last resort.  Anyway, I’ve found 100% wool sweaters for crafting as well as a pristine, fabulous cotton/angora/cashmere sweater by J Jill and gray Calvin Klein pants.  I paid less than $1 for both since clothing was $1 a pound.

You know the best parts of shopping this way?  I have amazingly high quality items to wear AND I don’t feel guilty splurging on a Kate Spade handbag during their sample sales. Winning.  😀

Do you have any tips for getting great deals?  I’d love to hear them!

August 22, 2012 - 10:16 am

Stephanie Neprud - Oh Rebecca. One of the many reasons that I adore you. This post made me think of my sister. She was the QUEEN of thrifting. When Elyse was born, she bought her so many clothes at garage sales. She knew all the good neighborhoods and would get brand new GAP clothes with TAGS on. As a matter of fact, she enjoyed it so much that we used to have totes labeled, 3T, 4T, 5 etc for when she could grow into them. She stopped going to garage sales about two years ago as her cancer prevented her for doing much. And we literally JUST used up our last tote about a month ago and Lisa has been gone since December. Thrifting is the BEST. Take me with you sometime. I love it sooooo much!!!!

How To Get LOTS Of Free Books For Your Kindle

I loooove to read.  For years my bookcases were out of control, then I bought a Kindle.  At first I wasn’t sure if I would like it since there is such a great feeling about holding a book in your hands and turning the pages.  (Weird, yes?  Maybe so.)

 

Anyway, I’ve been a Kindle owner for about two years now and absolutely love my Kindle.  When I travel for work (I’m a photographer) or go out of town for a weekend, I can now lighten my travel bag by about 3+ books.  I can read e-books in direct sunlight… which is next to impossible to do if you are using a computer.  Not only can I lend and borrow books from friends (my mom, aunt, grandparents, mother-in-law, and best friend all have one), but I can also get quite a few books free.  In fact, I get about 80% of my books free. Considering I can read a fiction book in 1-2 days, these free books save me a TON of money.

 

 

How do I get these free books, you may ask?  Let me share. 🙂

 

Many times, new authors or established authors who newly release books will put a limited time offer on the price.  Sometimes it’s simply a lower price.  Other times it’s completely free.  Some of these books will be free for a day and others will be for several days.  To find them, I go to Amazon’s Kindle e-book page, then look in the bottom right-hand corner of the page.  You’ll see a little box that says “Best Sellers; top free and top paid”.  It looks like this:

 

 

I click on the free category and see what’s new.  It changes often.

 

Here are just a few that are free today, Friday, August 17th, 2012.

  1. Juicing Joy with Fruits, Berries, and Melons
  2. Four Fantastic Bedtime Stories for Children 3-6
  3. When Calls the Heart (By Janette Oke… she’s a pretty big name for Christian fiction!)
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

 

 

*Please note – I fully support this product and have for several years.  With that said, affiliate links were used for the free books and Kindle links in this article.*

Why I Use a French Press for Coffee

 

Are there any coffee lovers here?  I’m sure I’m not the only one with a taste for this stuff.  Well, we got rid of our automatic coffee maker and lived to tell the tale.

 

First, a short story.

 

About 8 months ago, I dragged myself out of my comfortable bed one early morning.  Staggered over to the automatic drip coffee maker.  Added water to the reservoir.  Measured coffee grounds.  Dumped the coffee grounds into the…. water reservoir.  Not the coffee grounds basket.  Oops.  In my early morning daze, I KILLED my coffee pot.  After trying unsuccessfully to unclog the water line for half an hour, I ‘fessed up to my husband, Ben.  Later that day, we found ourselves shopping for a new coffee pot.

While walking through the aisles of a local store, we debated the merits of different coffee makers.  After a few minutes, we both noticed a humble, small box on the top shelf.  It was a French coffee press.  Aaaand we bought it.  We’d both heard that it produced superior coffee (and we love coffee!).  Thus began our love affair with a simple French press.

 

 

If you aren’t familiar with a French press, it’s basically a glass cylinder with a handle and a strainer/plunger.  That’s it.  It’s funny to me now that I was so intimidated by it! In fact, I let Ben make coffee that entire first week because I was afraid to mess it up.  Then I realized just how easy it really was:

Step 1: Heat water.  We keep a whistling kettle on our stove and fill it every morning.  Easy peasy.

Step 2: Measure 1/4 – 1/3 cup of coffee grounds and pour into the bottom of the press.  It depends on how strong you like your coffee… we just experimented until we found what we liked.  (Note: we have an 8 cup press.)

Step 3: Pour boiling/very hot water over the grounds until the water level is about one inch below the top edge of the press.  You’ll have a gritty, soupy mess.  The directions on the package say to stir the grounds and water, but I haven’t found this to be necessary.

Step 4: Wait about 3-4 minutes (again, you’ll want to experiment here to find out exactly what works for you.  Get stronger coffee by letting it steep longer.).

Step 5: Push the plunger on the lid down all the way to the bottom of the press.  This pushes all the coffee grounds to the bottom and allows you to filter out the coffee as you pour it into you cup. Notice the natural oils of the coffee floating around on top?  It gives it such a rich, delicious taste.  I wouldn’t have believed it till I tried it, folks.

 

Enjoy!

 

A few notes:

 

We buy coffee in bulk at our local health food store.  If you haven’t tried Kickapoo Coffee yet, you should.  I never thought I was a coffee snob until I tried this stuff, and it really is amazingly better than most (if not all) of the other stuff you can buy in the grocery store.  Plus, it’s roasted in nearby Viroqua, Wisconsin.  You can even visit their business during the public coffee tastings once a month.  We buy a pound of decaf and a pound of regular… then mix them together to make our own version of half-caffeine coffee.  It’s also helpful to grind your own beans at the store – we choose a coarse grind that is better suited for a French press.  The grinder machine should have helpful little illustrations that lets you know how to adjust the coarseness.

 

Using a French press is a very “green” way to make coffee.  It has less disposable products than a traditional drip coffee maker since there are no coffee filters or little disposable cups to throw away.  It uses less energy because it’s not drawing energy for hours as it keeps your pot warm (or powers a clock.)  Instead, we use energy only for about 4 minutes while we heat our water.  Lastly, used coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen for your garden or compost pile.

Well, there you have it.  What do you think of using a French press?  Have you tried it before?  Are you curious now?

How to Make Freezer Corn the Easy Way!

 

Do you love corn on the cob as much as me?  Because I really, REALLY love it.  In fact, after eating it all summer, I’m always so disappointed to go back to eating store-bought frozen corn in the fall.  So… this year, my family and I made freezer corn from their farm-grown sweet corn.  It took us a couple hours and several hundred ears of corn, but we ended up with about 60 quarts of corn!  Here’s how we did it:

 

Step 1: Pick corn (or buy from a local farmer!)  We didn’t count but probably had about 500-600 ears of corn.  Some were a bit small but we didn’t think we’d up to another day of making freezer corn so we grabbed as much as we could.

Step 2: Husk it all… remove the silk and any blights, bugs, or nasty bits.  My family gardens organically so we did have to cut off a few rotten ends.  But it’s worth it to me to know that our corn is chemical-free.

 

Step 3: Cook the corn.  We set up an area outside with a couple tables and a turkey deep frier.  (This is a really big pot with it’s own heat source and holds 30+ ears at a time.  Perfect for large batches of sweet corn.)  Once the water is boiling, drop in the ears of corn for THREE minutes.  Yes, 3 minutes.  Don’t cook much longer or it starts to get tough/not as sweet.  Remove the corn and let it sit until it’s cool enough to handle with your hands.

Step 4: Use an electric knife and shear the corn off the cob.  You could use a traditional knife but electric knives make this soooooo fast and easy.  We just used a couple of extension cords and had three electric knives running at once.

 

 

Finally, pack it all in whatever size freezer bag you prefer.  We chose quart sized and packed it to lay flat so it will take up less room in the freezer.  Perfecto.

 

Tips: We had six people helping and formed an assembly line of sorts.  While some of us were picking, others were husking.  Then once the water was hot enough, we divided into groups.  One person was responsible for cooking, three of us used electric knives to cut corn, and the other two emptied the area of corn cobs and husks, and also helped pack the corn into bags.  This was a huge pile of corn and we were completely finished within 4 hours.  Within 6 hours of being picked, this corn was cooked, packed, and frozen.

August 22, 2012 - 4:27 pm

kristy @ gastronomical sovereignty - this is a crap ton of corn!!! haha – so jealous right now! we’re moving to the other side of the country in a week so we haven’t been able to grow or preserve food the way i’d like to. this is impressive 🙂

today is the Wednesday Fresh Foods Blog Hop – I was hoping, if you feel up for it, that you’d link up this fabulous post (and any future fabulous, seasonal and/or real food posts) with us 🙂 Everyone is welcome so feel free to stop by. take care! xo, kristy

August 22, 2012 - 6:51 pm

sharon long - You skipped the very best part & i thought you were ‘frugal”! If you don’t scrape the great corn starch out of that cobb & freeze it too you miss the ability to make naturally thickened cream corn!! It is amazingly delish! 🙂

August 22, 2012 - 7:05 pm

Wendy - I have done this for off and on for 35 years. The years I don’t my family is very disappointed at Thanksgiving meal because this was always a staple! One year before my father-in-law passed away, I froze 90+ quarts of corn and the same of tomatoes for chili! Haven’t done even a fraction of that since though. Now I have to grind a 1/4th of what I prepare for myself since I am not allowed to eat corn kernals. But with butter and salt it is identical!!

August 22, 2012 - 7:11 pm

Tabby Deitrick - At my local produce market (that sells all local foods) I bought 15 ears of corn, because they were on sale 5/$1. So I just did this yesterday, but I didn’t cook it first. Is there a reason that needs to be done or is it just preference?

August 22, 2012 - 7:13 pm

Rebecca - Ooh, I didn’t know that. What a great idea. I will try that next time!

August 22, 2012 - 7:17 pm

Mary Beth Elderton - Wow! Thank you so much for the how-to!

August 22, 2012 - 7:38 pm

Rebecca - According to my mom, the reason we cook it first is that the starches and sugars quit growing. But I have to admit, I’ve never researched it for myself. Perhaps someone else can shed some light on this?

August 22, 2012 - 7:51 pm

Jackie - We did the same thing in late July, glad you were able to get yours done so quickly. My husband called and asked “How many bags do you want?” I thought they were grocery-store size, so I said two, please. They were FEEDBAG size, 150 ears! Took me three days! And worth it. I dried the husks in the sun and will use them for kindling.

August 22, 2012 - 8:08 pm

Jen - We keep talking about freezing corn. Perhaps now that the tomatoes are slowing down we can do so! An assembly line is definitely the way to go!!

August 22, 2012 - 8:11 pm

Michele - How do you scrape out the starch out?

August 22, 2012 - 9:52 pm

Lucinda Brown - I’ll tell You how I’ve always froze corn. I peel back the husk… take off all the silk… put the husk back up… wrap saran wrap around the ear then roll tight in alum. foil and freeze. Do that for each ear. When You want fresh tasting corn… take out an ear or more… make sire to let thaw completely… and cook like You do fresh corn. Tastes like it was just picked!!

August 22, 2012 - 11:06 pm

Linda - When I was a girl growing up in Northern Illinois my girlfriends dad owned the local bait shop and would travel to central Illinois to get his minnows. All summer we would fish and freeze the fish. In the fall, my dad, her dad and my brother would take a pickup truck and old oldsmobile you could probably put 6 bodies in and the truck with the minnow takes and visit a farmer down there who grew sweet corn for Del Monte. In exchange for the fish the guys got to go out in the field and pick all the corn they could carry home. In the mean time the ladies from 3 families would begin cooking ribs….. when the guys got back we ate then the corn fest began. My dad had built the BBQ pit and there was a place to put a big canning kettle with a fire under it, we had a copper trough with a hose running in it constantly and we started blanching the corn as you described, cut it off and all the mess was outside. We lived on a lake so the kids would just go for a swim when we got to sticky. We also got to “Scrape the cobs” with our teeth….. got the sweetest juiciest part of the corn (usually left on the cob after cutting the kernels off) We would put up enough for three families for the winter. One hint I did learn was not to cook it in salted water when you prepare it….. instead add a little sugar to the water… puts the sweetness back in. One of my most favorite summertime memories….ty for letting me think about it today ….

August 23, 2012 - 3:51 am

wendy - My husband and I use the food saver. We husked and cleaned the corn, placed the amount needed in the “bag” and vacuumed them shut and freeze. O so simple and easy. To prepare just place in boiling water and cook about 15 to 20 min’s. YUM

August 23, 2012 - 4:24 am

colleen thomas - Great idea, I never knew how to do that. Love fresh corn on cob. Hate the can stuff. Don’t care too much for store bought frozen.

August 23, 2012 - 7:55 pm

julie d. - I believe “blanching” is important. My grandmother added fresh whole milk to the water when she cooked corn. Don’t know why, but it was always sweet and tender and awesome!! I have just been blanching and freezing the ears myself. Might try removing the corn off the cob in the future. I REALLY, REALLY, LOVE CORN TOO!! A few years ago, I got “dentures”. I was just sick that I would not be able to eat corn on the cob anymore…I thought! Two weeks ago, I tried to, and I COULD! I ate four ears at one sitting !! Love it !!! thanks for the ideas.

August 23, 2012 - 7:57 pm

julie d. - p.s. The electric knife idea is a real WINNER!! Thanks……..

August 24, 2012 - 8:10 pm

Sadie Curtis - we have used this method … with one addition. Take a 2×4. and pound long nails into it … all the way through so the head of the nail is flush with the wood … about 4-5 inches apart. then have a member of the ‘assembly’ line push an ear of corn on each nail and cut the kernels off. Same person can removes cobs and puts new ones on (wearing an oven mitt) …. goes very quickly and you don’t have to let the corn cool down as long.
You can also run husked, silk removed corn through the rinse cycle of the dishwasher to blanch it … Honest!!!!!

August 25, 2012 - 5:53 pm

Sarah - I was just wondering how long it will stay good when frozen?

August 26, 2012 - 4:10 am

Pam - Yes! scrape the cobs. Not only do you get that great milky, sweet starch, you get the bit of the germ that you don’t get with the knife.

August 26, 2012 - 3:44 pm

Janice Doty - Such a smart choice for healthy (and non processed) corn! I love the idea and may just give it a try this week!

August 28, 2012 - 12:44 pm

Linda - Next take the cobs cook in water and make corncob Jelly it is great and a different thing to add to your stores…. I put a little hot pepper into a batch and have a great jelly for crackers and cream cheese.

August 28, 2012 - 6:30 pm

LINDA MITCHELL - YOU JUST USE A FLAT KNIFE AND SCRAPE THE COBB DOWN. MAKES IT DELISH!

August 28, 2012 - 6:50 pm

LINDA - We always just cut and scrape ours before we cook it. Some people cook it on the stove top until it is nearly done & some cook it with butter etc in the oven then let it cool down before freesing.

s

August 28, 2012 - 7:26 pm

LINDA - It should last all year.or probably longer.

September 4, 2012 - 4:56 pm

Lucinda Brown - I’ll tell You how I’ve always froze corn. I peel back 1/2 the husk… take off all the silk… put the husk back up… wrap saran wrap around the ear then roll tight in alum. foil and freeze. Do that for each ear. When You want fresh tasting corn… take out an ear or more… make sure to let thaw completely… and cook like You do fresh corn. Tastes like it was just picked!!

September 5, 2012 - 1:55 pm

Frankie Ann - Never thought of using my electric knife. I am always up for time saving tips! I use a bunt pan when cutting the corn off the cob. The end of the corn fits perfectly in the center hole and the corn falls right into the pan. Saves time on clean up!