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Shortening. The stuff dreams are made of. Pie dreams, that is.

Have you ever wondered why shortening is called shortening? What’s short about it?

One explanation is that baked goods typically made with shortening, like pies, cookies, or biscuits, are different from yeast breads that you knead. When you knead dough, you are attempting to make the gluten strands long and elastic. On the other hand, when you make pie dough, you try to work the dough as little as possible to avoid formation of long gluten strands so the crust will be flaky and light. So bread=long, pie=short. Shortening.

But, shortening has been called shortening probably long before people understood about “long gluten strands” or “forming a gluten matrix.” Those words don’t sound very 15th century, you know?

There’s actually evidence that “short” was used at one time as a synonym for “tender.” Ahh. Now that sounds a bit more historical. The Damsel finds it curious and interesting indeed that both meanings for the word “shortening” work pretty well.

It will be easier for us all if you think of shortening as “pie crust ingredient” instead of  “big blobs of solidified fat.” Some things are better the less you think about them. Besides, Grandma made pie all the time and she seemed quite at peace.


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how to seed a pomegranate

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When the Damsel’s Knight in Shining Armor was a boy, his family owned an amazing orchard full of all kinds of citrus trees–and pomegranate trees. He might have liked to know this trick back then, but he was only a wee tyke at the time. Someone else had to grub out the seeds for him.

This method will amaze you and make you want to buy more, more, more pomegranates–partly because they are so yummy and partly because this is just fun to do.

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Score the pomegranate with a sharp knife, but don’t cut all the way through.

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With your thumbs, pry the pomegranate in half.

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Ahh. So delicious…and so pretty.

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Pull outward with your thumbs along the edges, sort of flattening and loosening things. Prepare it for the mystery that is to come.

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Turn it cut side down over a bowl. And now–although it may seem shocking, strike the fruit with a spoon. Don’t be timid. Beat it. Pummel it. Spank it. All over. Beware that juice may fly, so using a large bowl like the Damsel shows here helps contain the violence.

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There may be a few seeds clinging to the fruit that you can pick out with your fingers, but most of them will come free. Repeat with the other half, and enjoy. Perhaps more than six.

(If you don’t get that reference, google up the Greek myth about Persephone.)

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Have you ever been happily making a yummy thing, and get half way into it when you realize you don’t have one of the ingredients?


This happened to the Damsel yesterday, when she attempted to make pumpkin pie squares. The recipe called for a yellow cake mix, and the pantry had no such thing. The solution, though, is so easy that you may decide you don’t need to buy yellow cake mix ever again.

Simply mix:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup non-fat dry milk (optional)

Store in a baggie or some such. It should keep for months since it’s just dry ingredients. This makes an amount equal to a regular cake mix box of 18.25 oz. Use it in your recipe just like you dumped it out of the box. Or just proceed to use it in your recipe, as the Damsel did yesterday.

Or, yes, you can even bake it into a yellow cake, and chances are, you’ll like it even better than a silly old box cake.

Here’s how:

Preheat oven to 350, and prepare a pan with ye olde grease-and-flour.

1 recipe Homemade Yellow Cake Mix
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs

Proceed just like with a box cake…combine all ingredients and beat two minutes. Bake carefully at:

8″ or 9″ cake rounds — 20-25 minutes
13 x 9 pan — 35-40 minutes
cupcakes — 12-15 minutes
tube/bundt pan — 45-50 minutes

If you’ve omitted the dry milk from the mix, just replace the 3/4 water with milk. All will be well.

yellow cake

Yellow cake can be yours. No store necessary.

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giveaway winner

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Random.org says the winner is Muum! Congratulations. Please email your shipping address to mhovley at gmail dot com and the Damsel will be happy to send you a little SUDDEN DARKNESS. Also include if you would like the book personalized.


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Something wonderful happened at the Cottage by the Mountains.

You may know that the Damsel also writes fiction. Her first novel was published last year, and she’s been working on a sequel for like, forever. But here’s news: the sequel, tentatively entitled Glimmer of Light, has been accepted for publication. A spring release is planned.

The Damsel has been dancing ever since she heard! So happy…and in celebration, she’s holding a giveaway of the first novel, Sudden Darkness. You can read a little about the book here, on Amazon. Click!

Entering is simple. Just comment. Tell us your favorite old-school skill or trick, whether one you read here or one of your own. That’s all you must do.

The giveaway will run until Oct. 1. U.S. residents only, please. If you subscribe by email, please click through to the website to leave a comment. Thank you!

Sudden Darkness

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If you’ve never had the luxury of sleeping on a ironed and lightly starched pillowcase, please proceed to the ironing board.

Maybe it’s not for every day, but this is one of life’s little pleasures that Grandma knew all about–and we’ve forgotten. Try it once, and see if you don’t agree.

“But I don’t iron,” you may say. “I’d rather die.” The Damsel understands. She’s said these words before.


It may sound painful but ironing a pillowcase is a quick job indeed. The Damsel estimates your survival percentages to be quite high.

But what about that starch thing? Who has spray starch around anymore, and why would a person spend their sheckels on such?

Let the Damsel put your mind at ease. You can make your own spray starch in, like, 30 seconds, out of stuff you probably already have. Here is the list of necessary ingredients:

  • spray bottle
  • cornstarch
  • water (you can also add a couple of drops of essential oil for a nice scent)

Yes. It’s just as you suspected. Starch = cornstarch, at least for this purpose.

Mix a heaping tablespoon of cornstarch in two cups of cold water until dissolved. Pour into a spray bottle. Shaking the spray bottle just before, and using the finest mist setting the bottle has, spray the fabric lightly and iron. This works beautifully but there are two things to be aware of. First, the mixture will get yucky in a few days, so make just enough to get you by. (hence the small spray bottle in the photo) Second, this works great for white fabrics but may cause white specks on colored fabric. You can eliminate this by heating the cornstarch/water solution to a boil and then cool. Now the cornstarch is in a more highly dissolved state and shouldn’t cause problems with colored fabric.

If you have vodka in the house **cough** use that in place of the water for a long-lasting mixture.

Quilters and sewers sometimes wash and then starch/iron fabric before cutting to give it extra “hand” that makes it a bit easier to work with.

Just as with purchased spray starch, you may notice flaking. Starching/ironing on the wrong side of the fabric is one solution.


The lost art of hand-embroidered pillowcases is another thing altogether.

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soft boiled eggs, perfect

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Have you enjoyed the deliciousness of soft boiled eggs lately? The Damsel fears cooking them is becoming a lost art, and that’s what the Old School is all about.

Soft but firm whites. Yolks that are thick yet runny. Nothing snotty or goobery. Perfect.

People used to (anyone still? yes? yes?) eat them in egg cups that looked like this:


The eater would cut off the top with a knife and then scoop out the deliciousness, bite by bite. So old-fashioned, so yummy.

The Damsel adores them, although not in the precious little cups. She loves them scooped out onto a piece of sprouted-wheat toast with plenty of salt and pepper. HEAVEN.

But some people fear the soft boiled egg, thinking they’re too fussy or difficult. Let the Damsel put you instantly at ease. If you follow her easy instructions your soft boiled eggs will be PERFECT EVERY TIME.

Put an inch of water in a sauce pan and heat to a boil. You will feel strange doing this, but press forward. You are going to steam the eggs instead of submerge them. You will like doing it this way for several reasons, and the first lovely reason is: that inch of water will come to a boil more quickly than a full pot. Less waiting=good.

Carefully set the eggs into the inch of boiling water. This will also seem strange–the eggs sitting there with only a bit of water under and around them. Have faith.

Cover and set the timer for six minutes. You can turn the heat down a little if you like, but the water should remain boiling.

Reason #2 for steaming vs. boiling: you can do several eggs in the same pan, or just one, or whatever your egg desires are. It’s still six minutes. With the submerge method, the number of eggs would mess with the temperature of the water and then you’d wonder, do I cook it longer? or ? Not so here. You can have confidence that your eggs will not let you down.

When the six minutes is up, run a little cold water over the egg until you it’s cool enough to pick up with your fingers and do whichever type of surgery on it you desire–egg cup style, over toast, whatever. The egg inside will stay warm.

The Damsel cuts the eggshell in half with a butter knife, in the general vicinity of her toast, and then scoops all the yum out onto it. Use firm but delicate pressure to cut through the shell. You’ll get the hang of it right away.


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measuring honey

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Honey. An old-fashioned and yummy ingredient if there ever was one.

If you have to measure honey for a recipe, do you draw a deep sigh? It’s going to be messy. Sticky. Gloppy. And then it’s going to stick to the measuring cup, and  the full measure of honey won’t get into the recipe. If there are kids in the house who have used the honey jar, just touching it takes courage. Opening it sometimes requires a superhero, with the lid all stuck tight.

It’s enough to make you want to bag the whole thing and take a lie-down.

Here are the Damsel’s tips for less stress when measuring honey:

  • If the recipe also uses oil, measure it first, then the honey in the same measuring cup. The oil will help the honey slide right out.
  • Or, spray the measuring cup with cooking spray for the same general result. (Use these methods for measuring syrup, too.)
  • Commit to yourself that you will wipe down the honey jar Every Single Time you use it. The Damsel buys honey in ridiculously large containers and then transfers some into a quart jar to keep in the kitchen cupboard, and she makes herself wipe off the jar rings and rinse the cap with hot water Every Single Time. This way she actually manages to open the jar all by herself most days, although she still welcomes superheros into her kitchen.

Also, the Damsel often nukes the quart jar for several seconds to make the honey pour into the measuring cup more readily. She hates waiting. (Take the metal cap off first)


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A few days ago, the Damsel posted an interesting infographic on preparedness. (See THIS post) Pretty amazing, and for most people, a bit overwhelming. The Damsel received this thoughtful reply and wanted to pass it along to you. (with permission)

“This friend of the Damsel found this plan fascinating and exhaustING!  and feels that the sanest form of preparedness is what my friends and I call “provident living.”  This means that we prepare thoughtfully for future emergencies without excessive focus on fearful events.  If we know how do to the necessities “old school” style, and live closer to the earth in practical ways, storing what we eat and eating what we store, we will be better able to cope with various disruptions in the world as we now know it.
This matrix has a lot of elements of fear and extreme changes, and it is both entertaining and anxiety-making to contemplate. But as for me, I cannot live happily if I am always imagining the scary future.  I have to live mostly with the demands of today. Not to be overly pious, but honestly, are not the evils of any given day sufficient thereunto? (Matt 6:34) I subscribe to the philosophy, “if you are prepared you shall not fear.”
This prepper plan would take the dedication of an absorbing hobby–using a lot of time and a lot of money.  But I have printed it and will put it in my binder for a time when I have a little extra of both, because it is so very complete.
Love your writing.

Carolyn McDonald”

Thank you, Carolyn. The Damsel appreciates your point of view and common sense.

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At the Cottage by the Mountains, it’s finally spring, and the garden planting has commenced: peas, beans, beets, spinach, chard, and onions are currently underway. Various squash and pumpkin starts are next up to move outdoors, and last fall’s garlic planting is looking great. Here we go!

Garden experts say that plants grow best in a neutral pH environment…not too acidy, not to alkaline. 6 or 7 on the pH scale is good. So now that many of us are getting ready to sow our gardens, how can we find out about the soil’s acidity?

pH test kits are readily available at home and garden stores, but here’s a simple and sorta free way to test your soil’s pH level, with stuff you probably have in your cupboard.


Go out to your garden and scoop some soil into a cup or jar. Add a half cup of vinegar. If the soil bubbles, it’s alkaline. In a separate container, scoop a fresh sample, and add 1/2 cup baking soda mixed in 1/2 cup water. Fizzing here says your soil is acidy.

To bring your garden soil into the neutral range, you will need to add to or “amend” your soil, as they say in Gardenland. Amend your soil with wood ash or lime, if it’s acidic. Amend your soil with sulfur or pine needles, if it’s alkaline. There are probably other amendments your local garden store would recommend as well.

The Damsel wishes you good luck with Garden 2013.

EDIT: please see the comments for a very informative link on adding pine needles to your soil or compost pile.





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