Thursday, June 30, 2011

First time Pickles

  With the overwhelming abundance of cucumbers this year, it is only natural that I should try my hand a pickles. I love to eat pickles, as does Isabelle. Andrew can't stand them, and he won't come near me when I am eating them because of the smell. I am still pretty new at the whole canning process, but I think I am doing pretty well with it. My goal is to have lots of preserved food to sustain us through the winter. Usually we spend more on groceries during the winter, but I hope to keep our bill down this year. The recipe I followed was really simple, and the pickles came out wonderful. I got eight pints with this batch, though two of them didn't seal properly. The only thing I can figure is that I didn't get all of the trapped air bubbles out of those and so their wasn't the proper head space. No matter. Pickles can keep for a while in the fridge, so I will use those up of the next couple of weeks. I plan on making a few more batches of pickles and will probably be giving some away, as well as giving away cucumbers. We already traded a bag of them for some homemade raspberry jam from someone Andrew works with, and I've promised pickles to another person in exchange for a gallon of blueberries that I intend to make into jam myself. It's really nice being able to trade the excess of what you have for something you don't have. Much better than just buying everything from the grocery store.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Another Energy Saving Step

Over the past year we've been taking as many steps as possible to really cut our energy usage, and since we've received notice from our power company that our rates will go up beginning in July, it's even more important that ever. Some of the things we've done were expensive (new windows) but worth it in the long run, but the most recent was so easy I don't know why it took us so long. We've installed an insulation jacket on our hot water heater. Our water heater is electric and old as dirt. Really I don't know how old it is, but it looked well used when we bought our house in 2006. It still works really well though, and truth be told a new energy efficient one is just not in the budget right now. We keep the temp set on 120 degrees F, which is the lowest setting. That has worked fine for us; we've never run out of hot water mid shower or anything. Well, the other day we went to the hardware store because Andrew had to buy a new tool for work and while we were there we saw the jackets. It's something we've talked about, but never remember to get while we were out. Old tank water heaters waste a lot of energy when the heated water sits in the tank unused. The heater is continually reheating it. This is especially bad at our house during the winter because our tank is in the basement which stays very cold during the winter time. An insulation jacket is a cheap easy fix. We went ahead on bought one for about twenty-one bucks after tax, and Andrew put it on as soon as we got home.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chicken Envy

We have new neighbors! The house behind ours had been empty for some time, and finally a family has moved in. Our properties share a chain link fence along the back, so I have a nice view of their yard and they of ours. One day I noticed the new neighbor working hard at building something in the back corner right near our property, so I introduced myself and asked what he was building. A chicken coop! It's all completed now, and his chickens settled in. I must say he did a very nice job. I would take a picture, but I've just met them and they might not be okay with me taking pictures of their property and posting them on the Internet. I have to admit that I am suffering from a bit of chicken envy. I've wanted chickens for some time now, but we live in a subdivision. Even though all the lots are decent sized and all the yards fenced, the neighbor to our right has five or six cats that all stay outside and I think one just had kittens. None of them are fixed. I always worried that the cats, who frequently hang out in our yard, would kill the chickens. I am really interested to see how this works out for them. Maybe we can have chickens after all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nothing Soothes LIke a Cup of Tea

I don't get sick that often, but it seems like four times a year, right on cue with weather changes, I feel a bit under the weather. Well just in time for summer - Happy belated Solstice by the way - I've been feeling a bit blah. Really it's just sinus stuff. Weeks of dry weather do a number on my sinuses and my water bill. Fortunately last night we had a good rain, and we are expecting more. I'm not a fan of modern medicines except as a last resort (like when my daughter developed a bulls eye rash following a tick bite, I opted for the antibiotic cream prescribed by her doctor). For me, all I really need to get me through a couple of days of a summer cold is a nice blend of herbal tea. The tea I was drinking this time was a blend of elder flower, yarrow, peppermint and hyssop with a dab of honey to sweeten it up and sooth my throat. It tastes much better than regular medicines too!

Monday, June 20, 2011

How my Garden Grows

It's been awhile since I took any pictures of our garden. A few things have changed since the last time. The radishes have been harvested and eaten. They were yummy. And then potatoes were killed off by pests, but we were able to get about thirty total potatoes. That sucks since we had twelve plants, but you don't win them all when it comes to gardening. I've added cucumbers, which I've never grown until this year. They are doing amazing. I started them from seed, and they are growing so well. In fact while I was out taking pictures, I saw a few large cucumbers, so I picked them and am currently munching on one as I type. It's really good.  The tomatoes are full of blooms and several large tomatoes which are just starting to ripen. The plants looks like they are wilting some, though , so I will have to keep an eye on that. I didn't think we were going to have any apples this year, but to my surprise there are a few on the tree. I'm really excited about that. My bell peppers, which I also started from seed are doing really well . Bell peppers are about my favorite vegetable. Since they freeze well, I grow tons and store them for making things like chili in the winter. Bell peppers are so expensive to buy, so it makes it really worthwhile to grow them. The garlic and onions are both doing well also. They are pretty labor free crops. Just plants them and let them do their thing until they are ready. So that's what I have going on in the garden right now. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Helping Daddy in the Garden

One of the most exciting and fun things for me about my garden this year is Isabelle being old enough to participate. Friday evening we dumped the other two potato containers and she had a great time helping us. We dumped them onto a big tarp, and then Andrew gently sifted through the dirt to find the potatoes. When he found one, he would point it out and Isabelle would run and grab it, squealing with delight. It was her job then to put them into the baskets. My job was to man the camera! Her curiosity and excitement is so contagious. Each potato found was a little treasure for her. I've always loved gardening, and now I have one more reason to love it even more!

Friday, June 17, 2011

In the Intrest of Frugality

When we started trying to live a simpler, more conscious life, being frugal just sort of happened. When you start growing and preserving your own foods, then most store bought things just don't satisfy, and so you stop buying. You discover that hand made items are infinitely better quality, and so you replace things less often. One area of our lives that has required a little more effort in the frugal department has been our energy bill. We have been making real efforts to reduce our consumption because while green energies, such a solar and wind power, are wonderful, the best thing anyone can do first and foremost in reduce the amount of energy consumed. We already turn off light when we are not in a room and unplug things when we aren't using them. We replaced our windows at the beginning of this year, which was a major improvement. We have a lot less gadgets that require electricity in the first place than most people. We hold off turning on the air or heater as long as possible, opening the windows to let in fresh air and natural light. And when we do have to use our central heat/air we keep them set on a lower/higher temp depending on the season. But most recently, I have taken one more step. No more dryer. The dryer is one of the most energy consumptive appliances a person uses. We are now air drying our clothes. Hopefully this will take a big bite out of our power bill. I have gotten a couple of racks, which I like better than using a clothes line, because I can set them up anywhere. When it's nice an sunny outside, I put the racks up out there to let our clothes dry, and when it threatens to rain, they are quickly and easily moved indoors. They also fold up neatly and can be put out of the way when I am not using them. The laundry involves a little more planning now, because I have to allow time for things to dry. Like my husbands work clothes. I can't wait until they are all dirty and then wash and dry them in one night. So far, though, everything has worked out smoothly, and everyone still always has something clean to wear.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New Knitting Project

I really enjoyed finishing the blanket the other day, and even more, enjoyed the satisfaction of having something pretty, hand made by me, draping over our couch. I am determined to spend more time with my knitting needles and crotchet hooks. I've been cleaning out the closet in our office/craft room and have been organizing all my yarns. I have so many leftover balls of yarn from other things, that I've decided not to buy anymore until I use up at least some of what I have. So, I will be making some small things for while. I really like this pretty green yarn and thought it would make a nice simple scarf to wear this winter. Hopefully I will actually finish it by then!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


 I've mentioned this before, but when we bought our house, it came with a few fruit trees, pears being one of them. Since we have lived here though, about six years now, we've never gotten more than a handful of pears. Every year the tree put out loads of blossoms, and every year they are lost to a late freeze.This year they survived and I believe that tree is trying to make up for lost time. The tree is so loaded that we had to tie up the branches with rope so they wouldn't break. I went out and picked a basket full and preserved them in light syrup. The pears are still a little under ripe, but that is what you want, otherwise they won't withstand the canning process. Ripe pears are good for making pear sauce. I'm sure I will be making plenty of that too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finally Finished

I love to knit and crochet, but I am guilty of taking forever and ever on a single project. I just don't ever seem to have the time, or to make the time really, to sit down and work on my projects. There always seems like a million other things to do. I started this blanket a while ago, while it was still cold in fact. Well, yesterday a pulled a muscle in my abdomen lifting something too heavy (lift with your knees!), so I was forced to take it a little easy for the rest of the day. Since just sitting is not something I know how to do, I pulled out my blanket project and was finally able to finish it. Yea!

Monday, June 13, 2011

For the Love of Pizza

I am not from an Italian family. My father's side is German and my mother's Scotch-Irish. But for as long as I can remember, we have all had a love affair with pizza. Now, I'm not talking about delivery (or Digorno), but made from scratch dough, add your garden veggies pizza. My mom was never much into baking or crafts, but from a young age my grandmother took it upon herself to instill in my sisters and I (and my cousins) all things homey. This included making pizza dough from scratch. It was one of the very first things I learned to make. I can remember standing on a chair pulled up to her counter, wearing a homemade apron and as much flour as the counter, helping her add ingredients and knead the dough. Since then I've grown up and gotten married and had a kid of my own, but I still love making pizza. This is a dinner, though, that has to be planned. No thirty minutes or less here. You have to allow time for the dough to rise. It's worth it in the end though. This weekend we had some friends and their kids over, and since I don't know any kids who don't like pizza, I thought this would be a nice treat
Ingredients: (this makes enough dough for two 12inch pizzas)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/ 45 degrees C)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/3 cups all purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and the brown sugar in the warm water and let sit for ten minutes. In should smell a bit like beer

stir the salt and oil into the yeast solution and mix in 2 1/2 cups of the flour. Turn the dough out into a clean and well floured surface, and knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky.

place the dough into a clean and well oiled bowl, and cover with a cloth.

Let the dough rise until double; this should take about an hour. Punch down the dough and form into a tight ball. Allow the dough to relax for a minute before rolling out
Use a rolling pin to roll out your dough, and arrange on pizza pan. Make your crust as thick as you like it!

Now top with all your favorite goodies! Sauce! Cheese! Veggies! Meat! Have fun! (I normally like lots of different stuff, but had some particular eaters that night, so our pizza has tomatoes and green peppers with extra sauce and cheese)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Repotting the Aloe Vera

original aloe

old aloe in new pot

new aloe

new aloe in old pot
Aloe Vera is something I think everyone should have. It's super easy to take care of, and nothing better works for soothing and healing minor cuts and burns. Just put it in a sunny windowsill and water when the soil starts looking dry. We had ours in our kitchen window, but it was just getting too big for the pot it was in. Then, on Freecycle (Freecycle is a website where members can post things they would like to give away, or request items they need. It's a way too keep usable things from ending up in the landfill.) someone posted they had aloe plants to give away, so I asked for one. Yesterday, I moved our existing plant into a bigger pot and relocated it to the bakers rack by the sliding glass door, and put the new baby plant in the windowsill using the pot the other aloe plant was in.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Early Potatoes

Since the pest damaged to our potatoes was so bad they couldn't be saved, we decided to harvest what we could as early potatoes. This means we won't have them for storage over the winter, but we will get a few meals at least. We dumped one of the containers and had about fifteen potatoes for four plants. It was a little bit depressing because there were at least forty to fifty more little mini potatoes that had just started to form before the plant died. We could have had a massive crop. Well, at lest now we know growing them in containers is very productive. These I sliced up and made homemade chips out of to go with some baked zucchini for dinner. Dipped in olive oil, sprinkled with rosemary and garlic salt and broiled on high for about thirty minutes. Yummy!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Zucchini Bread

When our cow was delivered this past weekend, the farmer also brought us some fresh picked zucchini. When I say fresh I mean it had been picked that morning. The very best thing I can think of to do with Zucchini is Zucchini Bread. Andrew loves it and so do I. I made two loaves, because it freezes well. We've been munching on one all week, and the other I put up in the freezer for another week.

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup water
2 cups grated zucchini (this is about one whole zucchini)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup chopped walnut or pecans

Preheat over to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, zucchini and lemon juice. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans (greased if not non-stick), for one hour or until tester comes out clean.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Buying in Bulk

The meat took up the entire freezer

I often buy my grains in bulk, and my honey too (honey has no expiration date as long as it is kept in airtight containers, otherwise it will ferment), but since getting the freezer from my parents, Andrew and I decided to buy some meat in bulk. A person can be put in a really difficult situation when they feel it is very important to eat hormone free beef, but the cost of it is so high compared to regular beef. Especially since Isabelle eats what we do now. At the grocery store I can buy standard ground beef on sale for as low as 1.99 per pound. Hormone free, depending on where I buy it from (this involves another choice because it's cheaper at Earth Fare, but much further to drive) anywhere from 3.85 per pound up to 7.99 per pound. Since we made the switch to hormone free beef, we don't even eat steaks or stew meat anymore because it's always at least 6 dollars per pound. One of the solutions we've come up with is to just eat less meat entirely, cutting back our beef consumption to just once or twice a week. While this had been really good for our health, we still look for every opportunity to save money when we can, and the opportunity presented itself in the form of a cow. A local farmer whose meat is hormone free, and whose cattle is allowed to graze, was selling them by the half or by the whole for 2.75 per pound. That is for all cuts, steaks, stew, ground, all of it. We agreed on half, which ended up being about 250 pounds of meat. This is more than enough to get us through the whole year. All of the meat was packaged for us and even delivered to us. Now I will learn how to cook parts of the cow I never used before, like the liver. Anyone have a good recipe for liver?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ladybugs to the Rescue!

Aphid damage to Butterfly Bush
Our ladybugs arrived over the weekend alive and well (despite being put in the mailbox by the postman even though in big bold letters on the front of the box read DO NOT PUT IN ENCLOSED MAILBOX). They came in two packs if 1500, the first of which we released Saturday evening. We will wait about a week I think before releasing the second group. We spread them around the yard, heavily concentrating on areas already infected with the aphids. Hopefully they will help. It was a lot of fun setting them free. They were crawling all over Andrew. After we got them all out of the mesh bag they came in, I had to start picking them off of him, and placing them on leaves or in the grass. I took a picture, but Andrew made me swear not to post one of him.  When I told my mom about ordering them, she was surprised that I actually had to buy ladybugs. "Do you know how prevalent ladybugs are in this area!", but then my dad commented that he hadn't really seen any, and it got me thinking. Usually they are everywhere. They are usually crawling up and down the screen porch at my parents house, and we almost always find them on the windowsills at our. They are very common in this area. Maybe they lack of ladybugs helped fuel our aphid problem. With less predators, their population exploded.I wonder what happened to our ladybugs?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Friends in the Garden


Our fat cat Lola watching Jack
Other than those pesky aphids, who will soon meet their doom as soon as our ladybugs arrive, we have a few other visitors to our garden every year. One is a little chipmunk, that I named Jack, who lives under our porch. He actually lived in our crawl space when we first bought our house, but my husband sealed up his little tunnel and relocated him outside. Now he lives under the porch. I know they are supposed to be garden pests, but he doesn't bother the beds, that I've noticed, and he's just so darn cute. I see him almost every evening. Our cat knows he's out there because she always plants herself in front of the sliding glass door and her tail flips furiously as he scurries back and forth. The other day, the cat the dog and the kid were all line up with faces planted to the glass, and Jack on the other side just staring back. Andrew said when he was watering he saw two, so maybe Jack has a friend (or maybe he is a she and has a baby). I don't know if chipmunks hibernate, but I only ever remember seeing him in the spring, and it's something I look forward to every year.
Next to our back porch we have a monstrous butterfly bush which has just bloomed. It SO pretty and sometimes it just gets covered with butterflies. I should get a book or something so I can start identifying the different species. I can see it from the window above our sink, which is really nice when I'm doing the dishes.