Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Date night

Last Tuesday night, I had a date...
...and the husband was the one to suggest it.
See...he was reading the newspaper as he is apt to do on a Sunday afternoon, when he handed it to me.
It was an article about a broadcast of the NYC ballet's production of the Nutcracker to a local movie theater.
It was decided...

I was going to the ballet...
with my girlie girl and junior ballerina.

So the girlie girl decided it was a girlie date and we should do girlie things.
We got dressed up.
(one member of our party dressed in a "leotard" (onsie) and tights...and needed to be convinced to put a dress on top.)
We went to dinner at the mall food court.
We went to the show.
That was followed by post movie discussion over dessert.

The ballet was wonderful.  
We were fortunate to have seats that the arm rest folded up (to make a jumbo cuddle seat)
and that the seat part folded up to make an excellent dance floor.
She danced for a good part of the show and a big smile never left her face.
When we got home, my little ballerina danced with her brother giving him big thumbs up to tell him,
"hey it's time to pick me up for the big jump."
She also decided that it will be a new tradition.
We HAVE to go to see that again.
Next year's a once a year thing.
But she doesn't quite buy that one despite it being the honest truth. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

I have been...

Late fall was a busy time around here and therefore, I have not had the time, forethought, or just plain old energy to write anything here.
I have been

  • Planting Garlic (over 100 bulbs) You can never have enough garlic.  My mom helped plant garlic, and SHALLOTS in the days before Thanksgiving.  She kept calling them leaks...
  • Teaching Knitting (they all "got it" by the last day)
  • Knitting (I don't have pictures of the top secret projects I'm going to be working on until early morning Christmas due to a camera issue.)
  • Reading Harry Potter (W. is hooked)
  • Scouting out fencing classes (W's physical therapist recommended it as a sport for him)
  • Researching phonics curriculum (anyone know of a computer (non handwriting) based phonics/reading curriculum for a 1st grader?)
  • Preparing for Christmas
  • Teaching about Advent
  • Working (when a kid gets sick on my caseload, I have to make up the session which means less work on the day I work and more on other days...aka bummer.)
  • Trying to keep a crazy 3 year old (who fights naps like a pro) in line (She thinks she should be starting Kindergarten...I think she's too young, but she's finished most of the preschool type things already...) She keeps telling people "I'm starting Kindergarten soon!"  Please little girlie...stay little for a bit longer!
  • Trying to get a certain little boy to's a never ending struggle, but if he doesn't eat as soon as he wakes up he gets really grumpy...and mean...his idea of breakfast time is no sooner than 10 am (after waking at 6 am) and eating just a clementine orange.  Another trick we figured out is to give him a bedtime snack of protein and seems to make wake up a little more peaceful.
  • Figuring out the whole winter-chicken-water's been evolving over the years, and I hope to get it perfected this year.
  • Searching for the battery charger for the camera...I have a feeling the kindergarten wannabe hid it on me.  I finally broke down and bought one.  The camera store wanted $53 for it...I walked away...Amazon had it for just $10...I'm all for local stores, but that was where I draw the line in the sand.  
  • Just being...I think that is important sometimes too...
I hope you are all enjoying the buildup to Christmas...Please weigh in on any of the questions/craziness above.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My sister's care...

Caring comes in many forms.  
For my sister, it came in a small package sent care of our parents.  
Everything you need to have a home style Thanksgiving.
(Hey, you are hard to get a hold of I am telling you here and now THANKS!)

It doesn't matter if you grew over 50 lbs of squash and pumpkins this year.
Thanksgiving means two things must happen in our family.
The pie MUST be made with One-Pie (the label isn't's the way it's always been.)
The stuffing MUST be made with Bell's Seasoning (it's nearly impossible to find here, so when a family member comes from Maine, they must bring Bell's.  Biscuits must be made with Bakewell Cream. (and biscuits are not served at Thanksgiving dinner, but sometimes this is another thoughtful item sent as it is impossible to even get through Amazon.)  I know there is this wacky thing called the internet, but I am not yet that desperate. is a gift thought out by the traveler, and nothing is better than a well thought out gift, one that is truly appreciated.)
The turkey has been ordered, the proper bread found (again, a tradition of buying this weird bread...but my mom's stuffing is something not to be messed with, it is a work of art.)
Next week, I'll post the's full of our family's odd (or not so odd) Thanksgiving traditions.
Traditions run deep. 
And for that, I'm thankful.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday...It don't mean a thing...without a caraway zing!'s alive and well. 
What a wonderful momma and teacher.)
 No matter what, it this sourdough cannot be killed.  I have (unintentionally) neglected  it...I have shared it with many...I have pancaked and waffled it away.  I have used it till there was just a few tablespoons left in a jar (just fed it a bit each day) a has come back with vigor unknown to mankind (until now.)  
No this sourdough cannot be beat!  
I have done everything but really make a loaf of bread with it...I am intimidated by sourdough breads.  The vast quantities of time...exacting quantities and the artful manipulations of it...and patience.  Yes, one of the many things I lack is patience.  
Being a type A person my whole life, I have been mindfully attempting to transition to a type B...although I still have type A attacks, mostly I try to take things as they come, and to challenge myself, I am attempting my first sourdough.  
Now most people trying something new would try a tried and true method and recipe...not me.  I am going rogue.  I am looking at a regular recipe for caraway rye bread, a white sourdough recipe, and all sorts of variations of the two then attempting to, with my limited experience, to create a sourdough version.
So here it goes...
Rye and Caraway Sourdough Bread
2 cups plain old Sourdough Starter
1 cup warm water
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp yeast
2 Tbs melted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups rye flour
1 Tbs caraway seeds
2-3 cups flour
Mix the starter, water, yeast, salt, butter, sugar, rye flour and caraway seeds in a non metal bowl.  Let sit for about an hour.  Add the white/wheat flour to the bowl until it starts to form a ball.  Dump it out onto a well floured table and begin to kneed.  It has the texture of playdough...and feels a bit wet, but that it the rye flour talking...
Once it is nice and soft, place in a buttered non metal bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight.  In the morning it will be huge and smell delightful.  Carefully dump it out onto a lightly floured table and divide into two balls.  Decide how you will form these loaves, let rise again in their loaf form for about 1-3 hours (depending on the texture you like...the longer, the bigger bubbles and more artisan it will look) Cut some slashes in it, maybe butter it and put some seeds on top...whatever floats your boat.
Bake until it sounds hollow.
350 for a soft crust
450 with a steam treatment for a crunchy crust
Not so hard after all.  
In fact, it may start showing up more frequently in the bread rotation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A walk in the extended yard.

We are very fortunate to live on a quarter acre.  While it is enough for a small garden and some chickens as well as our house and some play area, it is not enough for a hike.  We are fortunate that our neighbors across the street live on the rim of a ravine that has been turned into a park.   So in the fading warmth of Indian summer, we went hiking.  The husband and kids challenged themselves by crossing the creek (in these parts pronounced like the first syllable of cricket) I instead took the bridge.  It's funny to look at some parts of the trail to see what looks like the remainders of an old stone foundation.  Or, my kids favorite, a rock balanced precariously upon another that they call pride rock.  
(Insert lesson on glaciation.)

Yes, we are many can say that they have a waterfall in their (extended) backyard.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Homemade Hopes

When November 1st rolled around, I got to thinking 55 days until Christmas.  Things get complex this time of year as more people "drop in" and special shopping trips made.  
I want simplicity.  
Not only do I want it, I want it desperately...I need it.  
I am always amazed at people who seem to be able to "do it all" and it is often a topic of conversation between myself and other moms I know.  It always seems as though others are able to have perfectly clean homes (without leaves, half eaten snacks, and school work strewn about) and are able to enjoy reading books while creating the most crafty crafts, cooking from scratch four course gourmet meals, while looking perfect and by the way, their kids are perfect too.  Oh, by the way, they knit a sweater a day.  No, that is far from my life...I do find leaves in the house, half eaten snacks, and school work everywhere I go.
Not that I'm a slob, I just have other things I find important like picking a peck of dried beans from the vines before things get too frozen out there...
Well, the kids and I were talking the other day...see they NEEDED junk XYZ.
And I said no.
If you really want it, ask Santa.
(He's the man around here now.)
As for mommy and daddy, you get nothing between now and Christmas from those people...
(Well, maybe some stale bread and water if you are really good...)
and by the way, how about making things this year?
"Just like Laura and Mary?"  Said W.
Doesn't this go against my simplicity edict...
As I see it, no.
Instead of running around from store to store spending time away from the family trying to find
We can spend time together crafting things for daddy.
During nap time, I work on C's top secret gifts (W. gets a kick out of knowing a secret.)
And, during those early morning hours I work on W's gifts, and C gets to keep a big secret.
There are lots of secrets at our house right now.
I find my son values the hat I made for him last December.
So I am making presents for my family this year.
And the kids are getting in on the act.
I am also spending some special one on one time with each kiddo working on items for members of the family.
So some things I plan on showing here, and others I cannot for it would spoil surprises.
So last week I had W. all to myself.
We had to go to Occupational Therapy.
I worked on C's present while watching W. do his work.
I got so much done...
I used this pattern to create a lovely (and the simplest ever) pair of little kid socks.
I made some changes.
I used lion brand wool ease in a worsted weight.
I used size 10 dpn.
This took the baby size up to a 3 year old sized boot sock.
They are easily manipulated to fit whatever size.
I am currently working on W's pair of really big boy socks using the same changes.
I am also adding on a few inches of leg to his because he needs higher socks to protect his legs.
Oh and did I mention extra inches on the foot area as he has huge feet (that don't stop growing.)
Now my knitting class girls are into the secret.
They watch how to use dpn...the ultimate goal for many of them as they think they look terrifyingly difficult.
I will post pictures later, but I have too many lurkers at the current moment.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I thought of my sister today when...

I made a batch of Oatmeal Butterscotch Chip cookies and put the little cookie dough balls in the freezer to be baked up at a later date. 

I also made a really yummy Turkey Stew today.  I took leftovers from a Thanksgiving Style Dinner that we had a couple days ago and basically added it all to a pot of stock.  Try this later this month.


Saute Onion
Add leftover Turkey and Stock to fill a pot
Add a cup or two of leftover squash
Add a cup of potatoes (mashed or roasted)

Thin as needed with more stock or water.

Add some egg noodles and simmer.

Finish with whatever leftover green veggies you might have.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There's been a murder...

(Note there are no pictures is just too graphic and sad.
If you are attached to chickens, you may want to skip today.)
...And then there were five.  Yes, we are down to five hens (and nine chicks on their way...) for last night there was bedevilment in the chicken coop.  
Last night I checked on the girls...everything was fine and the girls were happy to receive a little feed before bedtime.  There were eggs to collect and the girls were happily clucking.  Last night we trick or treated on the road behind our house and cut through a neighbor's yard and our own backyard to come home.  
All seemed fine at that time too.  
This morning the dog wanted to go out repeatedly, but I didn't let him because he had already gone out. 
 Too bad I didn't...
I went to give the chickens some scraps and noticed that only five of them came out to gobble up the goodies (normally they all run out into their yard at the sight of me walking out the back door...) I went into the coop to give them their grain and instead of seeing the other three in there being silly waiting for the grain, I saw murder and despair...for I found two bodies ravaged, meat torn from the bones and entrails trailing...drumsticks intact.  Another thing I found were two soft shelled eggs sucked of their innards, shell shrunken (most likely this morning's eggs)  So now we are down to two barred rocks, one mystery chicken, and a red star.  I think they are the more dominate chickens, and the ones that died were the ones that roost in the more vulnerable parts of the shed.  This weekend we are planning on putting the yard to bed, with that chore will also come a installation of more secure roosts so that this doesn't happen again.
There is hope...I only found two bodies, so there may be one that got away.
I will be keeping my eye out for one little red hen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Apples...Mountains of Apples...

We haven't had dinner at the dining room table (or school for that matter) since last Friday.  See, last Saturday I went to the orchard and picked up 125 pounds of apples...a little extreme you may say, but a $15/bushel for seconds, I couldn't pass it up (and 25 pounds or so are for a friend so really 100 pounds of apples for 4 people isn't really all that ridiculous is it?)  This year the going rate for apples is $35-$40 per bushel...the lower end is pick your own...yikes!  I was hoping to make apple products for a year out of this much and now it seems like it may not be enough.

So on Sunday I began canning applesauce much like I did last year.  This year I got 18 quarts/bushel.  I also decided to make apple pie filling since my husband enjoys a flat topped apple pie (when you cook with raw apples it mounds the top crust and then the apples cook down and you are left with a large air pocket...when the apples are pre-cooked, this doesn't happen and the husband is happier.)
So since I posted last year on apple sauce and how I do that, this year I will attempt to show apple pie filling in all it's glory.

I have been looking at several recipes on line as well as in various books and have kind of agglomerated these into my own version using spices we like (love cinnamon!) and leaving out/ reducing quantities of what we don't (we don't use much ginger or nutmeg as the smell of the spices give me a bit of a headache.) Spices don't effect the canning time, but everything else does so I went with the longest processing time.  Since apples are high acid and I'm also canning using sugar (organic raw evaporated cane juice to be more specific...not grocery store white sugar, which would work equally as well, but I like the slight molasses flavor that this gives...sucant works as well if you  have that.)  So here it goes.

Homemade Apple Pie Filling
Makes about 6 quarts 
12 pounds of  apples (1/4th of a bushel)
Peeled, cored, and then sliced
4 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs cinnamon
1 tsp each ginger, nutmeg, allspice

Mix the water, sugar, lemon juice, and spices in a large pot.  Put the apples in and coat with the sugar mixture (if you want to be especially tricky, put the apples in the pot and then pour the mixture from another container.)  Heat over medium and carefully (as not to break up the apple slices) stir the mixture.  Once the mixture starts to get hot, cook for about 10 minutes until the apples are firm, but starting to cook.
In the meantime sterilize your quart jars and prepare the lids.  Ladle the apples into the quart jars, pour the syrup over the apples adjust the head space to 1/2 inch, adjust the lids and process in a water bath for 25 minutes.  

Now that you have the jars of apple filling what do you do with them?

  • Well first you can make pie...just like you would otherwise with raw apples, but the cooking time will be slightly reduced.
  • You can make apple crisp...just pour the contents of a jar into the baking dish, add your favorite topping and bake.
  • Warm up and enjoy over ice cream (or just eat as is warmed up...maybe sprinkled with a little granola for a quick pseudo crisp)
  • Make mini pies in muffin pans for those school lunch treats (or for breakfast...much healthier than poptarts.)
  • But first, before anything, admire them on your shelf and know how wonderful it is to have all your apples preserved in one way or another for the coming year.

And for cost analysis...much like the applesauce, it is much cheaper to make your own pie...
At the local grocery store a (conventional) pie goes for about $8.99.  
One quart of apples costs $0.62 ($15/bushel divided by .25 divided by 6)
Sugar 3/4 lb is approximately 1.5 cups at 1.25/lb it is $0.94/6 is $0.16
Lemon juice and spices call it $1.00 for the batch $0.17  
So in total it is less than a dollar per jar ($0.95)
To make a pie crust  it is about $0.50
So for about $1.50 I can make a pie.
That is if I want to...
I may just eat some of it straight up.

(Using "natural" apples, and all else organic.
Also, by buying from the farmer, I help keep the money local.)

I'll be submitting this to Punk Domestics...cause it's fun.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The past two nights I have gone to do the last check on my 8 year old  (which I am slightly ritualistic about and have been doing now for...well...8 years) I have been met with a beautiful sight.  She, squeezed tightly but surprisingly joyously into her twin bed with her 4 year old sister.  They share a room (even though they each have their own) and they share a bed (even though there are two beds in that shared room).  I guess years of co-sleeping wear off hard.  They both love the company of each other in that tiny bed.  But wait, I digress.  Moving past just the lovliness a mom experiences watching her children just sleep after a long and crazy day, my 8 year old has, is it?, yes, tucked under her drooly face, .........a book!  It has happened.  That moment when reading becomes a joy, a passion, an addictive behaviour.  When she walks around with her thumb tucked into the spine and retreats upstairs for some quiet time to finish those last couple chapters in her hammock.  I am so quietly happy for her and her new found love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The wrong tomato...

Every Spring, Doug Oster hands out seeds like candy.  And these are not just any seeds, but they are tomato seeds he is helping to resurrect from heirloom obscurity it is the Limbaugh Legacy.  It's how he goes about it that is strange...he hands them out for free with one little must send back the seeds from your first tomato from the plant that the seeds grow...then you should save the seeds from you second tomato for yourself and hand out any seeds from other tomatoes...or just eat the tomatoes and enjoy.  While this is a noble cause, there is one problem...people unfamiliar with tomato growing may not know how to read the description and know what type of tomato it is...
The description is a large bright red tomato that is late developing that grows on a potato leaved plant.  The tomatoes that grew from my seeds were large...and they were late developing...and the plant was definitely potato leaved...but they were not I got another Black Krim/Purple Cherokee (and if anyone can tell me a definitive way to tell them apart I would be grateful.)
So since I know the difference, I will not be sending my seeds back in, but will instead be saving my seeds for next year and in the meantime, I'll turned my first (and only since the chickens got the rest...) into...
My favorite sandwich (well that's a tie with a #17 from Zuchinnos... or maybe the Thanksgiving Sandwich...How I love the sandwich.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

...and I'll laugh

I get my morning coffee and cut open a biscuit that I made yesterday.  Upon it I have put the dredges of strawberry jam put up in June, a bit of rose hip jelly put up over a year ago yet it is still as sweet and full of citrus flavors as it was the day it was canned, and some locally made butter, sweet and deep yellow as only butter that had a grass loving cow behind it can be.  But then something distracts, phone calls, quarrelsome children, or the realization that it is almost time to go hither and yonder for one program or another. I'll remember how many little old ladies stop to tell me to savor the times when they're little for it goes too quickly. 
And so is life.  

Enjoy the simple pleasures while you can; savor them for their time is fleeting.  I try to enjoy the most mundane of tasks...feeding the chickens, baking fresh bread, making applesauce...for their time is fleeting too...the chickens will peck and go play in the rain, the bread will be consumed, the applesauce will be canned for a dinner in January where picking apples with friends will  be remembered and laughed about.  C. will tell of how she picked so many apples that she broke her backpack...W. will tell of how he ate so many that his baby teeth wiggled...and laughter will be savored as well as dinner and I will try...I'll try to remember these fleeting days that hurriedly I tried to pack a whole fall into jars, freezer bags, and cupboards...I'll try to remember W's jack-o-lantern smile and the quivering stuck out lip of C.'s dismal realization that her backpack burst at the seams with apples... 
...And I'll laugh.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Early in the morning...

The phone is's 6:26 am.  I look and see a number I don't know...and then I remember, it's the post office.  Yesterday I told them any time after 5:30 am was an okay time to call me.  I rouse myself out of bed, one that's been taken over in the past 10 minutes by eight kicking and hitting restless arms and legs and simultaneously vacated by a larger set of arms and legs.   It's time to rise and shine everyone must get dressed quickly we have to go on a little journey to the post office before the postmistress gets a headache.  
We all get into the car somewhat dressed and clean, ready to start the day.  C. has decided on a pair of pink polar fleece pants with a short sleeved red dress over the top.  I let it slide...she looks cute and it fits her quirky little personality.  W. asks if Jack Frost has come to visit yet.  He has not, but he will be here before long.  We drive with a few yawns and whines of "Please turn up the heat..." and "I'm so hungry I could eat a bear without salt." (A quote from Little House that W. has grown to love.)  I reassure that our package is very hungry too and we can all eat breakfast together.  We watch as the school bus we have been following turns down a friend's road...W. comments that his pal must be going to school.  
Finally, we arrive at the post office.  The lobby doors are open 24 hours so people can get to their P.O. boxes and there is a wooden door that the postmistress told us to bang on loudly.  We do.  She comes with peeping box in hand and chats about what is in the package and asked the kids if they are responsible.  W. decides to hold the box as we leave.  He tries to move a corner of the box aside to peek in, but cannot.  
We arrive at home and unload.  Now the sun is up and it is becoming warmer.  We fill up a mason jar with warm water and a touch of sugar.  I pick each body out of the box, dip its beak in and put it upon straw under a heat bulb and is fall, and the time of year we get our chicks. 

 I know it's an odd time, most think Easter and spring chickens, but we prefer the fall.  That way, they will start to lay in the early spring when we have been deprived of freshly laid eggs.  We order early since many hatcheries don't sell in the fall, and then share in the surprise as we receive that phone call..."We put them in the mail this should be getting them tomorrow..."
5 Red Stars and 5 Easter Eggers arrived today in the mail...small but strong.  Two of the Easter Eggers are especially beautiful, one is chocolate brown and the other is silver grey.  
W. enjoys the Red Stars...the quintessential yellow ball of fluff.
 Our older birds are not laying as well as they used to.  They will become the old ladies living at our chicken retirement home and we will slowly introduce the new girls to them.  More on that subject when we get there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In awe of sisterhood...

Friday I spent my knitting class watching a set of sisters.  I can't get the images out of my head and I have been reflecting upon them all this week.  These sisters with similar strained expressions upon their faces while trying to eek in a needle when they pulled a stitch too tight...making crazy comments about who had a more difficult time with their hair...
"We have the same type of hair, I'll show you what to do with it."  The older sister takes the younger sister to her door-less bathroom where she proceeds to dampen, blow dry, and brush the younger sister's hair.  Being adults now, this seems silly, but the older sister is determined and the younger sister allows it...similar to when they were young and the older sister would braid the younger sister's hair into crowns around her head.  The younger sister warned the older sister that it was not going to work, but the older sister insists and continues to make an attempt to tame the unpredictable hair of the younger sister.  After a while the older sister puts down the brush in defeat...the younger sister's hair is in a massive tangled mess, wild and standing on end to make a massive mess of stuff  somewhat resembling hair upon her head.  The younger sister within seconds pulls out a ponytail holder and whips the mess into her regular messy bun hairstyle.  The older sister then says, "maybe we don't have the same hair after all..."
The younger at the point of tears looks at the older sister for reassurance, but what she finds is even better...the older sister is making horrid faces at an attempt to purl for the first time.  The sisters' have faces of rubber able to flex into all sorts of bizarre and ridiculous expressions.  Realizing that her older sister is not perfect gives the little southpaw a new lease on knitting...she picks up her needles and hand dyed yarn, ready to take on the world...
The scene is a hotel room, on an annual family vacation to celebrate Granny's birthday.  The older sister rolls over on her bed and sees the younger sister on her bed, most likely reading.  The older sister watches for a minute and then says, "It's like you are becoming a real person."
The younger sister is taken aback for a moment and thinks...what was I before?  Then she decides to take it...validation is worth it especially from someone as cool as your older sister.  
Later that day I see the sisters, sitting next to each other talking like best of friends...which strikes me as odd since they are 5 years apart, and at their ages, it may as well be light years...They have hit a place in their relationship which my sister and I only hit after we both were mothers, finding common ground in our children and both conforming to and rebelling against, at the same time, to the way we were raised, the way most parents do, realizing why your parents did the things they did, and adding your own spin to things.
  I am in awe of both sets of they grow together making memories and finding special moments in life.
Here's to you sister.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Roasting sauce

I was making roasted tomato sauce a bit ago, and mentioned it here.
 I have gotten several requests for how to make roasted sauce so here it goes.
First get a lot of tomatoes.
A dear friend of mine offered to let me buy discounted tomatoes from her CSA (community supported agriculture) share, so I had a full bushel of beautiful paste tomatoes.
I washed those red orbs very well and then cored and cut them in half.
Then I removed all seeds that were readily available (not necessary but makes things go quicker.)
Yes, I left the skins on!  No standing over the hot stove with boiling water.
Then, the larger tomatoes were cut again into quarters and left the smaller ones in halves and placed them skin down in a glass baking dish.
I learned the hard way, make sure they are in the top 2/3 of the oven which is preheated to 350.
Put them in and let them cook for about 45 minutes to an hour.
At this point you have lots of juice and wilted mushy tomatoes.  Drain the liquid off (you can put this through a few layers of cheese cloth and preserve the little bits if you want) and put the remaining shriveled tomatoes into a pot.
Using a stick blender (you could run it through a food processor or blender before putting into the pot, but I am in love with my stick blender) puree the tomatoes and you have tomato sauce...mine was thicker using this method than if I skinned and left it to reduce for hours over the hot stove.  I just heated it up in the pot and let it boil for about 15 minutes so that it would reduce a touch and be hot for canning.
Continue to can/freeze as you normally would tomato sauce.
Salsa, Traditional Tomato Sauce, Roasted Tomato Sauce

(I did the lemon juice and pressure canner method found in the Ball Big Blue Book of Canning.)
One note about this method.  I did tomato sauce both ways (roasted and the traditional remove skins core and remove seeds puree and boil for hours upon hours) this year.  I found this.  After canning, the traditional method continued to be smooth and uniform looking after canning, but the roasted ones separated a little bit and had a chunkier look.  I think this may have been avoided if I had pureed the tomatoes a bit more, but I enjoy some tomato chunks in my reminds me what it really  is...TOMATO sauce.
While I had tomatoes on hand, I also made up a year's supply of salsa...the zesty salsa recipe from the same Ball book, but I put in about half of the hot peppers that the recipe called for...okay so some not so zesty salsa...but for our family it was perfect...
I'm thinking of adding some corn and black beans to it once opened for a special treat one cold and snowy day in the future.
Did you do tomatoes this year?  If so, how?
(Linked to Simple Lives Thursdays)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A letter to myself next spring...

Dear Citysister,
In regards to your garden...
Volunteers are your friend, just don't let them take over. (Sorry, my mother in law just called and asked if the volunteers were the kids, no, they were plants that had seeded themselves into the garden somehow.)  The squash were quite annoying and made it impossible for other plants to survive or get harvested for that matter.  Be ruthless! It should become  your new motto.  The tomatoes need to be started earlier indoors and use the brooder light, when that was introduced, the tomatoes took off.  Staking the tomatoes will be a must, their vines made it difficult to harvest the early birds and the slugs loved the late ones as well as the worms and chickens when they broke out.  Tomatoes are great, but grow lots of canning tomatoes with a couple of other types, that way you get the glut at one canning time instead of a measly one or two here and there to make canning your own difficult.  Plan the garden for that matter and stick to it.  (This year I had a plan, and then let the volunteers take over, and started planting too many of one thing so I took over spaces that were meant for others.)  Potatoes rock...low maintenance, high yield, and completely different creatures than the ones bought at the store.  On the thought of potatoes...over the winter could you fix up the basement's cold storage room and make it ready for next could be something special! In that vein, think about reading up on cold storage... Pole beans are great! Just think about making stronger and taller poles for them as they do tend to take over.  Get the early plants in earlier and the fall plants in earlier seeds if necessary in the spring for the fall as it is unlikely any will be left come fall.  This is the second year this has happened to you.  Spinach didn't work out too well this year but remember the spinach but grows all summer as well.  Give the squash the hill.  They were crazy this year growing 20 feet long tendrils in the wrong place...again be ruthless!  Get the garden in front of the chicken coop planted early and take advantage of the spring when the neighbor's tree doesn't have huge light blocking leaves.    Most of all, have fun thinking and planning the garden over the winter...maybe measure things out and plan on grid paper so things are a bit more accurate.  Reposition walls over the winter too...after all, one doesn't need to mow between the beds, the foot traffic is enough to keep the grass down.  (The beds were originally planned to be able to mow between the beds, but we found that with increased foot traffic between the gardens made it possible to not mow.)  And by the way, the apples from the orchard are great, but maybe you could get your act together and plant some of your own?
In regards to putting food by...
The roasting tomatoes method for canning worked great (more on this later)  DO THIS EXCLUSIVELY NEXT YEAR.  Plant more green beans.  I mean it.  And dry beans too...  Plant corn so we can put some away that we grew.  The squash are so easy to put by, decide on a favorite type.  Continue to have people keep their eyes out for canning jars for matter what, you never have enough.  Try to clear out the chest freezer so you can shut it off for a bit this winter.  Organize the pantries and freezers over the winter so that we can optimize what we do.

In high school, I had a teacher that had us write a letter to ourselves in one year and then again in five years, with an address of someone that we believed would still be there in five years.  I remember getting that letter (well, my mom calling me saying I got some mail at their home.)  After telling my husband about this, he began doing this with his students.  Different situations occurred over the years.  For example, people move or loose touch, or in one instance a student you mail the letter to his parents.  What if in that letter was something that could have saved him, or cause the parents more grief.  He sent it and left it to the parents as to what to do, but maybe seeing his handwriting gave them some comfort.  I remember writing in an attempt to be profound and reading laughing at how silly I was a mere 5 years earlier (and probably if I wrote another letter at that point and read it now, I would be equally impressed about my silliness.)

In a letter to yourself, what would you say?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday...Slow food (early so you can join in too...)

take the 5 dollar challenge

Basically, they're asking that you create a meal for less than $5/person made from local foods.
The $5 comes from the average cost of a fast food meal.
Dude...if I spent $5/person for a meal that would be $20/night. Multiply that by 30-31 days a month and your food budget for the month for dinner alone would be $600-$620 a month!  
We'd still need to make breakfasts and lunches.
We eat locally most of the time because it is just that, cheaper.  
Yes we do buy almond milk/almonds which don't grow around here too well, and for that matter chocolate doesn't grow locally, but it is not much of a challenge for us to do.  
So for this Scrumptious Saturday I will be preparing a local meal for much less than $5 per person.
So here it goes a menu and cost breakdown

Steak (2.50/lb locally grown from when we bought a quarter of a cow.) Herb rub from our garden
Potatoes (grown in the yard) butter (local dairy $3.50/lb...we are using maybe 20 cents worth.) Herbs from garden
Braised kale and Swiss chard (about 1 slice of bacon 31 cents from a local meat farm, grew the chard, kale from farmer's market $2.00/bag)
So for a dinner for four using only local ingredients we spent about $5.01
Even if I took into account the cost of purchasing seeds for the items I grew, it wouldn't be over $6 for the whole dinner.

Nothing special...just a typical dinner for us.  
By the way, I'm posting this Scrumptious Saturday early so that you can maybe think about doing this challenge yourself.  
If so, let us know about it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Knitting with little ones...

At our homeschool co-op, which started last Friday, in order to get your first choice classes, you have to teach a class.  If you don't the more popular classes fill up by 7 am of regular sign-ups (teachers get to sign up their kids a few days before.)  So, I decided to teach a beginning knitting class.  Lo and behold, it filled up with just teacher's kids and I had people begging to let their kids sign up (of course I let them.)

The prep for the class was a bit time consuming, but it was worth it to get my kids in classes that they were looking forward to (such as chess and dinosaurs.)  For each student I made a packet.  White wool (about 100 yards) was "hanked" onto a paper plate and then placed inside a gallon ziplock bag.  I cut, using the chop saw (yes dad I did it all by myself), quarter inch dowels into 10 inch segments.  I also got out our sand paper, butcher block bee wax, fimo, and wood glue.  For good measure I added a tie-dye kit.
Each kid got a wool package (spaghetti...I let them know that it was going to be their new friend hank...) two dowel segments (chopsticks they eat their spaghetti!) sand paper and set up a area to dye (one girl said "mom told me I was going to die my first class...I was a bit confused.")
Two girls would get a chance to dye at a time while the other girls would sand their dowels ("till they feel like silk"   I told them.)  Eventually, everyone dyed their wool, sanded their dowels, and used bee's wax to finish their sticks.  Fimo was handed out and everyone was told to make balls for the end of their sticks.  I packed everything away and the rest of the day proceeded as planned.
After getting home, I washed everyone's wool and hung it out to dry, baked the fimo for the ends of the sticks, and made little packets of wool and completed sticks for each kid in my class.
Tomorrow...In, around, through and off...we will learn the knit stitch...and maybe purl will visit too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tomatoes...half off...

"You can't be friends with a squirrel, a squirrel is just a rat with a cuter outfit!"
                                                                                       - Carrie Bradshaw

In my opinion, the same can be said of chipmunks.  I have watched them...happily frolicking about my back patio...jumping into their holes that surround the new strawberry bed, and in general being evil little vermin.   The first time I caught one in a trap, my husband was upset with his opinion they are cute.  But I have evidence...half eaten cherry tomatoes everywhere but in my salad.  They choose the ones that are 1-2 days from being ripe...I would pick them, but also wish to have them ripen on the vine and oh so sweet.  Don't worry...

"I'll get you my pretty..."
-Wicked Witch of the West

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fall garden and seed saving

The fall garden is in and the squash starting to tell me as well...
It's almost fall.
Even though it is well over 80 by mid day, 
the early mornings and late evenings are getting cooler and the night...
well, I need a blanket (but then again, any temp under 60 I need one.)
The fall lettuce started to grow almost moments after placing it in the ground. 
As did the carrots...they know they need more time to store starches for the winter.
They must know it's getting cooler, but the fall spinach is a bit more hesitant.
It requires fall rainstorms with chilled reassurance to begin growing.
On the days we don't get the late summer rainstorm in the evening,
I go out with the hose and cool them off myself.
Trying to fool nature...
My next task is to enter my August numbers for harvest.
I've gotten a few large long pie squash,
a few tomatoes,
beans...I love the beans.
Lightly steamed so they are still crunchy,
sauteed with a little garlic,
raw out of the garden.
It doesn't matter to me.
We've also been getting the dried green beans for next year's garden.
Alongside the Provider beans, there must have been some other variety for one or two beans in the packet.
One or two plants grew that were not provider...but rather a large flat pod that had dark, navy bean type seeds inside.  I am saving them too as they bloomed a bit before the provider.
They'd make a nice dried bean I think...they are so pretty.
As with my squash, I have 4 varieties going...due to cross pollination, I cannot save their seeds for next year.
But I did save some seeds from the packets for next year.
I'm going to have a taste testing and decide what is going in the garden next year.
I love having the ability to start next year from this year's bounty.
It's how it should be.
Are you forgoing some of this year's harvest in order to save for next year?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The kindness of community

It's worth getting to know the small business owners in the area.
It's worth asking them their recommendations for products needed, or if they want to get rid of pallets.
It's worth building these foundations for a day like Sunday.
Saturday night the local deer had a meeting followed by a party in my garden.
They voted and decided to leave the squash alone (this time) since last meeting they ate squash leaves.

This time they decided to eat the tomatoes in the front right side as well as the swiss chard and the green beans

(but only if they are new and bearing flowers and new little sweet beans.)
Yes, they ate my tomatoes (but left one giant one alone!)
So I went to the garden store and Mike was there...
He asked how the chickens were and if I needed any feed...
"No I bought some when you (Mike) were on vacation a few weeks ago...
We're good, it's just the deer..."  
I told the story about the deer and their local union meeting and after party...
So we decided on a fine liquid fence.  
He also suggested a gun or bow and arrow.
I then went out to look at the plants...they always make me happy to see...and something amazing was out there...12, one year old strawberry plants for $8...but wait...a 50% off sign was next to it...I went in and asked if the strawberry plants were half off too...and by golly they were.  
I went out to study them...I called my husband about them as just a few days ago we were discussing strawberry plants and our future as growers of strawberries...
and I checked what they everbearing and eight June bearing.  
That's all that was left.  
Mike then came out and asked if I wanted any, he'd load them up (that place loves to load up you car for you...nice thing about the "small town" feeling of our area) and ring me up...I thought I'd buy 3 pots (36 plants plus daughter plants coming out everywhere so closer to about 50.) but only one of them is ever bearing..."We'll have strawberries in June...just have to have a little patience." I told Mike.  
"Well, take them all." was his reply..."not everyone has vision like that."
I now have over 100 strawberry plants in my back yard.

All for $12.
I still need to plant them, but this is where they will go.  I need to put down compost and straw and then plant, but this area has been liquid fenced and should be safe until I get the time to do this... so I may just get some berries after all...
with some patience and vision.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday...what's not cooking

The bread is baked.

The tomatoes picked.

It's cooled off here, but still I try not to cook too much.
It's summertime; the time of fresh eating.
And, I try not to think about it, but time to start the first thoughts of next year's garden.
Seed saving is in full swing.

I let some of the first green beans go to seed so that I could get more seeds for next year.
My provider green beans have been going berserk...they produce so well and continuously.
So the first dry beans have been picked with hopes of seeds for next year.
I have also been going to the farmer's market to buy tomatoes.
Varieties that I didn't plant this year.
I save the seeds.
The seeds that will grow next year.
For example I bought "heirloom" tomatoes from a farmer who said they were the variety
(Some of the family farms, the rest sell at the markets so the sellers don't know as much about the produce as the farmer part of the family sadly.)
I think it's a Cherokee Purple.
Let me know if you think otherwise.

To save the seeds, I scoop out the seedy goo from the tomatoes and place it in a cup.
Then I add a little water (enough to cover the seeds and then an extra inch or so.)
Then I give them a stir to loosen the seeds from the goo.
I put it on a window sill and let it build a moldy crust (about 3-7 days)
Then the goo is removed and the seeds are cleaned from their protective gel.
(This is why tomatoes are moist, but don't sprout inside a good tomato.)
Then the seeds are placed on a towel and dried for about a day.
Then the seeds are placed in labeled envelopes and put in the seed bin part of our fridge.
This process only works for open pollinated "heirloom" tomatoes.
Ones bought at the store unless they are labeled as an heirloom variety usually will not grow true to the parent (they won't look like the tomato you bought and/or may be sterile.)
That simple.
Lets talk cost.
Organic seeds cost about $2.50 for a packet of 20 seeds.
I get about 100 seeds from a tomato (depending on type and size.)
I only spend about $.50 for an organic heirloom tomato or $2.00 for a pint of cherry tomatoes.
See the savings?
Not to mention from those 50 cents I get tomatoes to feed a family for a year.
For many years to go.
For the cycle keeps on going.
For this I am thankful.
Frugal gardening at it's best, the way it was meant to be.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Laura and the Laundry

Often I am in the midst of piles of laundry.
Thrown out of drawers by one Miss. C.
Shoved under items.
In hampers
In baskets
On the floor.
In the washer.
In the dryer.
Clothes everywhere.
W. and I have been slowly reading through the Little House books.
I am reading ahead...what can I say, they're addictive.
In the later books, she spends great amounts of time describing what people wore.
What the style "back east" was.
What would Goody's book say?
Talking about working making shirts at the dry goods store.
Or hiring out to the dressmaker's  (7am-5pm bring your own lunch for $0.50 a day)
Sewing all day during the winter or knitting lace with friends.
So much of their time was spent making clothes, yet it seems as though they each had 
1) lots of underclothes that were worn several sets at once (one must be proper petticoats, drawers, union suits etc.)
2) an every day dress and apron (or for the man folk, what we would call a dress shirt and slacks.)
3) a best dress (or a suit)
The best dress may be rotated to the everyday once the everyday was through being worn (or not depending on what it was made of.)
Children's clothes were made with growth in mind; seams could be let out as could hems to allow for the growing child.
Man do I long for those days.
Laundry was a hassle (Monday wash and Tuesday iron, but no purple dye #17 to get out of clothes after Grace painted...just stove blackening.)
But think of laundry everywhere.
People cared for their clothes and didn't think of them as disposable as they do so in modern society.
Clothes were time, raw product, and lovingly made.
Not cheaply made in Indonesia.
Socks were knitted by the fireplace during the evenings when family spent time together talking, singing, and being together.
Old clothes were put in a scrap bag to be remade for smaller clothes for siblings, or trim for the curtains.
Sheets that were worn had the center seam torn and then the far sides were then sewed together to make "new" sheets...ones already flipped were then made into curtains or dress linings or quilts...
Yes they were stylish.
Yes they were thoroughly modern for their day.
Laura embraced technology and loved modern things.
I have read some about her later days and the modernization of her farm through the years.
But often I wonder what would Laura think about today's modern society.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Scrumptious Saturday...Corn update and Glummer

Tonight is the annual Glummer party.
Picnic food
Family and friends
It's Glummer time.
(GLUM end of SummER party.)

That sack of corn held 77 ears.  My mom said that up her way corn is going for 75 cents an in the beginning of corn country the stores are selling conventional corn 5/$2 (40 cents an ear.)  The farmer's market was selling  13/$3.50  (fresher and more local...while they are not organic, they follow similar practices but can't afford to get certification...and cheaper at 26 cents an ear!)  or my 77 ears for 25 cents an ear...not much of a discount from the regular price, but I'm glad to pay it to a local rather than having a middleman such as a large grocery store chain (even if it is a locally owned chain)...
What I did get?
15 pints of cream style corn
(I think it's gross out of the smells and looks like something in a diaper, but homemade it's not so bad.  Not to mention the brownie points I get since the husband would bathe in it if allowed he loves it so much.)
7 pints of whole kernel corn
16 ears frozen corn
8 ears eaten fresh.
So at grocery store prices it would have been about $1.50/can (organic on sale)
$4/4 pack for the frozen corn
$3.20 for the fresh
also known as $51.20 for the same corn processed.
Sure, canning companies must profit, employ, and keep the overhead...groceries must then have the same issues... but it is more than a 50% markup from the fresh from the farmer cost.  
(note: cost does not include the price of the jars...I have all I had to buy was water, gas for the stove, and lids ($1.25/12 pack))
So here is what I did...decide if it's worth the time or not...

Creamed corn

(Followed Bell's recipe)
Wash corn and then cut corn off the cob then scrape the pulp and milk from the cob
For every pint of corn/milk/pulp mixture add 1 and 1/4 cup boiling water and 1/2 tsp salt.
Boil for 3 minutes.
Put mixture in pint jars with an inch of head space and then wipe rims and adjust the lids fingertip tight.
Process at 10 lbs of pressure in a steam pressure canner for 1 hour 25 min.

Whole Kernel corn
(Bell's again)
Wash corn and cut off the cob (not scraping this time.)
For every pint add one cup boiling water and 1/2 tsp salt.
Boil for 5 minutes.
Put mixture in pint jars with an inch of head space and then wipe rims and adjust the lids fingertip tight.
Process at 10 lbs of pressure in a steam pressure canner for 55 minutes.

Frozen corn
Put corn on the cob in boiling water for 6-8 minutes depending on size.
Place in freezer bag with as little air as possible (I have a little hand pump, like a mini bike pump, that sucks air out.)
Freeze immediately.

In the end I gave the chickens all the leftovers...they can try the bits left on the cobs...they will peck at the husks, but most likely are using them to provide fun scratching material.

As for the corn products, it really is that easy...and rather reassuring (disclaimer...follow safe canning advice from trained professionals, this is provided as just an idea of what is done... disclaimer over.) that you know exactly what is in the yellow dye to make it pretty or unnameable chemicals for texture...just corn, water and salt...and don't forget the love,
Lots of it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

And the winner is...

The winner is:
True Random Number Generator  7Powered by RANDOM.ORG

The winner is Tracey from the blog Clover who said
I adore the chicken! My favorite posts are the one's that deal with food...gardening, canning, recipes; they help expand my cooking and are a joy to try.xx

Glad to hear you like the recipes...I guess I should get that section up to date.

Again a big thank you to all who entered...and keep never know what will show up next here.  

It's been a few eventful days around the city homestead...
A few of you have been asking about our Pumpkin.
While I am sure you are talking about the kitten my husband brought home, it reminded me that you haven't seen the garden recently.
Well, as you can see Pumpkin is a small snoozy cat who loves a little boy.
His heart belongs to that little boy and the little boy's heart belongs to his kitten who is now
Pumpkin Duncan Shumunkin.
The pumpkins in the garden are doing well too.  
I only planted the New England Pie and Long Pie seeds (one each but have many more), but also got about 2 other types of winter squash growing as well.
We didn't cage the tomatoes this year, and now I am wondering how I'm going to pick them.
The main problem is that I get too many volunteer tomatoes and then don't have the heart to pull them.
Lesson year I will be heartless.
The calendula is growing like wildfire and seeds are all over the ground for next year it seems too.
I have pulled tons of potatoes and am still waiting on the blues.  
They seem to be very slow.
In place of the potatoes pulled, I have planted fall spinach, lettuce, and carrots.
The peppers have also been taken over by the volunteer tomatoes.
Garlic has been pulled, cured, and is now in our refrigerator waiting for the biggest and best to be planted in a few months.
And the corn.
It is currently 15 pints of creamed corn.
In our full bellies as corn on the cob.
Waiting to be husked and frozen.
In the fridge for dinner tonight.
About to be put into corn bread.
Basically everywhere.
I'll have to update later on how much there really was.
So far the count is up to 48 ears.

Today is the last day to become a follower or be an old friend follower and comment in order to win a beautiful green glass chicken.
The gateway drug for any homestead.

Wouldn't she look lovely on your countertop?
All you have to do is comment
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