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Canning Pickles | Our Prairie Nest
Pickles & Breadcrumbs

No, pickles and bread crumbs don’t go together… unless you’re making them!

Last week, we did our first canning of the season. Year after year, we enjoy a bountiful cucumber harvest. The right ones go into pickles. Which cucumbers are best for pickles? You want the smaller cukes, the ones with smaller seeds. They should be just ripe. An overripe cucumber doesn’t make as nice a pickle.

Making Pickles

There are several ways to make pickles. The first couple of years, we went with the heat canning and boiling the jars, but last year we discovered an easier and tastier way to make pickles – no heat, no boiling, and the result are even more flavorful, crunchy pickles.

If this sounds intriguing to you, you want to go with cold process. There are several recipes available with different ways of spicing the pickles, but most come down to the same technique: you clean the cucumbers and jars, mix your spices, boil your brine, slice your cucumbers, add garlic, and then the brine and spices. Let them sit for a few days and then give them a try.

Making Breadcrumbs

The other thing we did last week was make homemade breadcrumbs for the first time. With all the grilling we do during the summer, the top of the refrigerator becomes a sort of catch-all for hamburger and hot dog buns. I don’t like throwing away the leftovers and I also don’t want to feed leftover pieces to the birds and ducks. It’s just not good for them or the environment. So I finally put the leftovers to good use.

Breadcrumbs are easy to make. I tore the buns into small pieces and put them on a foil-lined baking tray. Then, I placed them in the oven at 350 degrees. I checked on them every 10 minutes, mixing the bread until it’d all gone nice and dry.

If you aren’t sure you can remember to check in consistently, because you don’t want the bread to burn, you can dry it at lower temperatures for a longer amount of time. When a few pieces still felt a little soft, I turned the oven off and just let the tray sit for another 10 minutes.

Most recipes call for a food processor for the next step, which we don’t have (that and a mixer are both on my wishlist. Someday!), but a blender works just fine. I filled the blender about halfway with dried pieces of bread and used the ice crushing setting to break them down into breadcrumbs.

Then I experimented with my next batch by throwing in a combination of kosher salt, oregano, basil, and parsley. I kept the spices to a minimum, but probably could have been more generous with the amounts. This batch of breadcrumbs came out smelling delicious and I plan to make them in the future with slightly stronger seasoning.

That is, if cooking with them turns out well. I’ll try to remember to report on that!

*Edited to add: Cooking with them was amazing! Just as good, if not better than, store-bought breadcrumbs.

Bread Crumbs | Our Prairie Nest

DNA Testing: Caveats | Our Prairie Nest
DNA Testing: Caveats

Family Tree DNA first began offering direct-to-consumer genetic testing in 2000. After years of reading articles about the success people had with DNA testing for genealogy, I took my first test in 2006. Only a year later in 2007, 23andMe joined the party, and now everyone is doing it.

Yet, not everyone understands the risks of DNA testing. So many people test and are disappointed or, worse, upset by their results. There’s so much education out there, that while I am an enthusiastic advocate of genetic genealogy, I also ask people to take a common sense approach. What do I mean by this? I mean it’s a good idea to try to understand the science behind, as well as risks and rewards of, DNA testing for genealogy, before spitting into the tube.

As with scientific processes, there is an answer for each of your concerns. Here are some things to keep in mind:

You might not get the ethnicity you “want”

You’ve tested, gotten your results, and you’re upset because the results don’t show that you’re “British enough.” This can happen for a number of reasons and should not put you off genetic genealogy, as it is now considered an important tool for meeting the genealogical proof standard.

The different companies have different test groups and regions, so while one company might label you as Italian, another might label you as Greek. This happened to me and I’m not too concerned. I don’t see this as a problematic ethnic label and because they will probably refine this in time.

Also, your ancestors might not have been “as insert-ethnicity-here” as you expected. After all, do you know what ethnicity their parents or grandparents were? What about their great-grandparents? Your admixture might be more diverse or mixed up than you expect, and that’s okay!

Instead, let DNA ethnicity results be your guide in genealogical research (rather like online family trees), and not the be-all and end-all of who you are.

You might find unexpected relatives

I love that Judy Russell emphasizes this consistently in her blog posts and presentations.  I had the pleasure of seeing her speak at the Nebraska State Genealogical Society Conference this past April where she stated as emphatically as she does in her blog posts do not test if you are not prepared for the potential results.

Yes, you might find unknown siblings, first cousins, second cousins… even parents. You might realize a grandparent’s parents weren’t their parents after all. I’ve found a first cousin I didn’t know I had and I thought that was the only surprise I would get. A year later, I found out there are still close surprise relatives around every corner.

While my family and I welcome these relatives, other families may not. Or perhaps the tester now has to come to terms with their new “identity.” As enthusiastic as I am about DNA testing, I’ve learned to take an “I’m here for you when you’re ready” approach to those cousins who’ve received a genetic shock.

If you don’t think you can be open to people who suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of this kind of “what do you mean my father isn’t my father?!” news or handle it yourself, then this warning bears repeating: DO NOT TEST IF YOU ARE NOT PREPARED FOR THE POTENTIAL RESULTS.

I hope that won’t put people off from testing, because there is support out there and many people within the genealogy community feel it is their duty to be as supportive as possible to others in these cases.

You might be wasting your money

Let’s be honest: most people only take these tests as a lark to learn their ethnicity. Honestly, that just isn’t worth the $49 or $59 or $99. If you do take the test just for ethnicity reasons, please do consider at least adding a skeletal family tree to whatever testing service you use. Going as far back as great or great-great grandparents is super helpful and those of us utilizing DNA testing for genealogical reasons would greatly appreciate it! And don’t be surprised to hear from people trying to figure out how you’re related. If you’re not sure, it’s perfectly okay to answer that you’re not really into genealogy and sorry you can’t help them.

But it’d certainly rock if getting your DNA tested turned into a gateway to you becoming interested in genealogy. 😉

Wicca and Witchcraft | Our Prairie Nest
Wicca & Witchcraft

Now we come to our final (and a tad belated) post on the topic of vocabulary: Wicca and Witchcraft, Wiccan and Witch… These four words are often used interchangeably, yet do not have the same meanings to everyone.

I am fairly particular about these words myself, and must preface this by saying, as always, that this is my point of view on language. I am neither right nor wrong; this is simply how I have developed my ideas over the years.

1. Witchcraft is the practice of magick, alternative healing methods, and living in harmony with nature.

2. Wicca is a religion that embraces the practice of Witchcraft, espouses a belief in a Mother Earth Goddess, and a Father Nature God. Deities are also symbolized by the Moon Goddess and Sun God.

As you see by these definitions, Witchcraft is a practice, while Wicca is a religion. Witchcraft in and of itself is not a religion, but may certainly be a very spiritual practice.

Wicca is a religion under the umbrella of Neo-Pagan paths, alongside Asatru, Druidism, and many others. Some refer to Wicca as “the Craft of the Wise,” though I see Wicca more as embracing the use of “the Craft” than actually representing it. Wicca is not defined by the use of Witchcraft alone.

One may certainly practice Witchcraft without following the Wiccan path. This is true of Christian or Jewish Witches, or those who combine different religious traditions into their overall spiritual practice of Witchcraft. For example, I do not refer to myself as Wiccan, but rather by the broader term of Witch or simply Pagan. I know of many people who honor Mary as a Mother Goddess, or who follow a Buddhist path but believe they can actively change the world through magick, as well as their religious chanting.

All in all, how we express ourselves may change over the years. A person who delved into Wicca early on, may later find that they are able to refine their beliefs further into Druidism. Likewise, a person who feels too confined by the rules of Catholicism, may still appreciate and utilize its rituals, particularly in the context of the practice of Witchcraft.

We grow, we change; we are not meant to remain static. To do so is to stagnate. If we do not learn and grow (whether in our own beliefs, or in new ones), then what is there left to do?

On Pen Names & Summer | Our Prairie Nest
On Pen Names & Summer

What a weird combination, right? But, first of all, I’m back to writing regular posts.

Summer kicked my butt. Not that it was an unforeseen thing. Really, it’s in the parenting job description. Have school-aged children? Is it summer? Welcome to No Rest for the Wicked. Fortunately, I was pretty smart about how I planned things. Or unplanned, rather. There were times I simply gave in. To what? Random get-togethers with friends, trying to remember how to hula hoop, drawing hopscotch courts, and rediscovering Golden Girls.

Did I write? Definitely. From May to August, I put out two novels, a bajillion short stories, and kept up with administrative work. Because, summer or not, writing is my job and I can’t drop everything just because the lightning bugs flash their butts at me in their oh-so-sassy way.

If you keep up with my Instagram feed, you know what I write. If you don’t, you can just take a peek down at the bottom of the page here to see. It’s not that it’s a secret, per se. In fact, it’s probably the worst-kept secret ever. But I do like to keep it separate from this blog and my personal life for various reasons. That’s the second reason I have pen names.

The first reason is, as many aspiring authors might understand, fear. Not fear about myself or anything like that. It was fear that I would fail and my name would be attached to that failure. With a pen name, you can experiment. If it bombs, you can drop the project and start fresh with what you’ve learned. It’s a lovely thing.

I really wanted to write what I’m writing now, so I took a chance, but the pen name gave me a degree of “separation” between the first few books and personal attachment. Once I found out I wasn’t going to fail, I felt comfortable putting more of my heart and soul into the name I was building. The stories became more personal, as well.

And, at that point, maintaining a pen name became about equal parts branding and compartmentalization. Branding is a smart idea no matter what name you’re using. But also being able to have a boundary between yourself and your day job is healthy, even if it’s your dream job.

Writing is a part of who I am. No doubt about that. I do it every day and I love it with all my heart, especially the genres I write. However, it’s nice to be able to set those boundaries, to decide what belongs where. I’d like to keep my real name is attached to genealogy and Paganism, and maybe someday I will write a book under it again. But maybe not.

Anyway, there’s an indirect tip from one writer: if you’re going to venture into writing, start off with a pen name. It allows you to try something without taking it too personally if things don’t work out.

And, as far the kids wanting attention all summer long? Do take that personally, because someday that precious 5-year-old is going to be 16-years-old and screaming, “I hate you! You’re ruining my life!” while slamming her bedroom door.