What was only going to be about a week stay at Homestead Heritage in Waco, Texas, with my friends here has turned out to be about a 24 day stay. I am grateful to have the extra time here with my friends. It has been a huge blessing for me. Not only have I been able to have time with people I already knew, but I have been able to see them more often and we have gotten to know each other better. I have also made some new friends this visit. One lady and her daughter live in Florida about a half mile from where I live, only they are going back soon and packing up to move here to this community.
Some of the families I visit during my time here over the years on previous visits are away on vacation. I am staying here a few weeks longer so I can see them when they get back the end of August. Also, part of the delay of my travels to Albuquerque is that where they park the campers who arrive early, to help and volunteer for Balloon Fiesta, is under construction. I don’t want to arrive in Albuquerque until there is a place I can park and have electricity. It’s too hot to dry camp.
So, during the time I have been here, like I have written in a previous post a few stories before this one, I have been helping at the Cheese Shop, the Bakery, the Gristmill, and also helping make soap, lotion, lip balm, and other tasks related to each of these areas. It has been fun, and also educational for me. I have learned to do things I haven’t done on previous visits. When we work there are several people doing the tasks so not only are we working, but we are visiting and getting to know each other as we work.
When we work at the Cheese Shop, sometimes we get to snack on the pieces of cheese that are extra or when we want a snack. One of the best selling items is marinated Feta cheese. We seem to make between 25 and 30 dozen jars a week. When there are two or three of us the process goes quicker, however, it’s still a task that takes many hours. One of the men, whoever is available, cuts the Feta cheese with a french fry cutter. This picture is what a 5 gallon bucket of Feta cheese looks like after the whey has been drained from the container. After the cheese is cut, we mix ground up basil, garlic, and sun dried tomato into the cheese, fill the jar, and fill it with extra virgin olive oil. It’s really good on crackers or pasta, or even chicken.
At the Bakery, there are always cookies and other items that are baked and come out that are not perfect to sell, or a loaf of bread may be a new recipe we get to sample. One day there was scraps of croissant dough, we made chocolate croissants and almond croissants, and I took some pieces of extra dough and made a few small croissants for me to take back to the camper to eat later. They were so good. It’s been fun to see how some of the baked items are made. All of the dough and batter is weighed before it’s shaped and baked so they come out to the same size. I have learned to make stuffed croissants, pita bread, sour dough bread, and of course cookie dough which I have made many times at home. Everything is measured either by ounces and pounds, or grams.
When the bread is sliced, the slicing machine automatically lets the next loaf in line go down to the cutter when the previous loaf is cut and removed. One day we even defrosted the large chest freezer. It just so happens that I had a hair dryer with me the day they did that. I was going to take a shower at a friends house after I finished working that day. I didn’t know we would defrost a freezer. When I was younger we had a chest freezer and used a hair dryer to melt ice. Having the hair dryer with me this particular day shortened the time to defrost the freezer and we were able to get food put back into it quickly after we cleaned the freezer and got the water from the melted ice out of it. It was amazing how much more room the freezer had after it was cleaned and organized. We were able to put more bakery items in the freezer for them to use when needed.
The Bakery makes their own vanilla extract. They take a 2 liter bottle of vodka and add about 40 split vanilla beans and let it sit for about 6 months. It smells really strong and adds a nice flavor to the baked goods. I love the boxes and packaging from the company Nuts. Several friends have invited me to dinner at their house. One of them has a very interesting clock in their kitchen. The hands of the clock have a knife and fork as the hour and minute hand. I learned how to make different shaped pastry to be filled and glazed. The big machine with the white dome is a dough rounder. A large circle of dough is placed on a red tray with circles and in less then a minute the dough becomes round balls and all of the dough is used, no scraps. It’s really cool to see. The mixers are next to the ball rounder and they make about 50 pounds or more of dough at a time. All of the baked goods including the croissants on a rack to rise and more baked items and breads that were stacked in bins was made in one day. The white bins under the large tables are filled with different types of flour, and one with sugar.
As for making soap and lotion, it was really cool to see the soap we made after it set up for a few days and we were able to cut it into bars. Each brick mold of soap was different for the soaps where we used a few colors in it. Each bar of soap was also different. Since there were some skinny ends to the soap that cannot be sold and are scraps, I got to take them with me. I can give them to a few friends and say that I helped to make this soap!!!. How cool is that. A few times we made lip balm, three different flavors. We took the empty tubes for the lip balm and put them in holders and poured the melted mixture into the tubes. In about an hour they were solid and we could remove them from the holder, put caps on and then label and shrink wrap them. I learned how to finish the edges of soap, polish the soap with a damp cloth and let it dry, then shrink wrap and label them. They look like they are store bought even though we made each one by hand. I love smelling the different soaps too. Some of the soaps are the same scents, but they smell different depending on the ratio of the oils to each other.
In a previous story a week or so ago I added pictures and more stories about the soap and lotion making, including when the oil container overflowed because we didn’t watch it closely. Here are a few more pictures taken when we made another batch of soap. Because the soap contains lye which is very caustic, we wear goggles and gloves when making and pouring the soap. Sadly, I didn’t think to take pictures of the blue soap bars after we cut them. Each bar looked different due to the swirling we did in each soap brick when it was poured. After the soap hardens and comes out of the mold, it is cut into bars which have to cure for about six weeks before they can be used. I like to cure mine longer. The longer they age and the harder they get, the longer the bar of soap will last. I also put a hole in a bar of soap and make soap on a rope that I use in the shower. It works great to not have the soap sit in a soap dish and melt. I especially like soap on a rope in campgrounds because many of them don’t have a shelf in the shower to put soap, shampoo, etc. In addition to being a creative and wonderful soap, lip balm, and lotion maker, Rachel is a fantastic artist. I love this watercolor painting she did for a mutual friend of ours.
I’m glad this campground has wifi. It allows me to update my website. I found out about a children’s book series called Amelia Bedelia. I had not heard of this character and I found several video’s on You Tube of the book being read and showing the pages of the book. If you get a chance check it out. You will laugh and enjoy the various books. Amelia Bedelia is a child and she takes things people tell her to do literally. If she is told to dust the furniture, she dusts the furniture. She actually takes dust and puts it on the furniture. If she is told to draw the curtains, she takes a pad and pencil and makes a drawing of the curtains. In one book she went camping. She was told to pitch the tent, so she threw it into the bushes. Or she was told to catch a fish, she waded into the water and caught a fish, then let it go. I found out about this character because I was telling someone about Oh, The Places You’ll Go, and the real story of the Big Bad Wolf. I’m so glad I found out about Amelia Bedelia.
On Friday, August 26th, the day before I left I worked at the bakery for about 7 hours. The people that work in the bakery have become my new friends. We spent many days and hours working together and getting to know each other. We had lots of fun in addition to working. It helped that I like to bake and I do it at home very often, I was able to be given a task and able to do it without instruction often. When we made croissants I asked if I could make some with the extra pieces of dough to take on my trip and they said yes. My creations were filled with either chocolate, almond paste, or plain. They tasted delicious and will be enjoyed as I travel. I also was given an apricot almond bread, cinnamon raisin bread, and pumpernickel bread for my trip.
I cooked some pasta to eat as I travel, I can hear it easily and put marinated feta cheese on it for a fast meal. I usually eat cold cut sandwiches with potato salad as I travel so this will be a nice change.
I will leave Waco on Saturday, August 27th and head towards Albuquerque. I will stop along the way and I think it will take me several days to get there. I have a few campgrounds scouted out to stay along the way. I will miss my friends here in Waco, but I am also looking forward to all of the projects I will get to do helping before the Balloon Fiesta like I did in previous years. We have had a lot of rain this past week in Waco. It was really needed, but I’m not sure 5 or 6 days in a row was best. It did cool the temperatures from 100 and a little above that to the low 80s and even a few nights in the high 70s which has been very pleasant.