Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January Resolution Review

I set some goals at the beginning of the year, so I thought I'd give a quick monthly update on my progress.

  • Goal - 18 Books and more than a year of Mother Earth News and Hobby Farm Home back issues (and yes, I've let the subscriptions to those magazines expire).
  • January Progress - Read 3 books (3 of 18), but just one of the  magazines (1 of 38). 
The books I read were:

  • Goal - 12 completed projects, preferably one a month, with one being a quilted item and another being knit socks.
  • January Progress - Finished a pair of fingerless mittens. (1 of 12)
I finished these crocheted fingerless mittens.  I had started them back in the summer on a camping trip, but lost the pattern on the same trip.  Fortunately, I was able to find it online, and was able to complete the pair. 

I also knitted a small afghan/blanket for our cat Bob, who was moved from outside to our basement in December.  He likes to sleep on dirty laundry, specifically sweaters, so I decided to make him something of his own.  It isn't much to look at, but it used up some of my yarn stash, and was good knitting practice for me.

  • Goal - Organized planning, leading to an organized garden.
  • January Progress - Did germination testing on the seeds we already have on hand.  Printed garden organizer I purchased from Northwest Edible Life and recorded seed tests and a few other things.  Read about gardening.  Thought about gardening.


  • Goal - To switch over to less harmful types of sweeteners and/or reduce sugars in our foods.  To grow more of our food in our backyard.
  • January Progress - Shane has switched entirely to local honey as the sweetener in his coffee.  I only sweeten coffee occasionally, but when I do, I've been using Sucanat.  I have not yet found a sweetener I like in my tea other than white sugar, so I'm working on reducing the amount.  Little other progress has been made on this front.

  • Goal - To join a local yoga class better flexibility, balance and overall health.
  • January Progress - Something came up and I was unable to join.  I plan to look for another class or a different activity to meet this goal.
  • I've started looking at bicycles.  I'm getting a good idea about what I want and don't want in a bike.  Basically, I'd like a big ol' cruiser bike with a big, well-padded seat, and handlebars I don't have to lean over, but with multiple speeds.  If I can't find what I want, Shane says he can (and will) Frankenstein custom build one for me. 

  • Goal - To pay off our RV.
  • January Progress - None.  I have filed our tax returns already, and should be getting refunds, but those funds are earmarked for tires for Shane's truck, tires for the RV, and a large chunk of savings for next winter when holidays and bad weather shrink Shane's paycheck considerably.  Very little, if any, funds will go toward the RV balance.  On the other hand, we just completed a No Spend/Reduced Spending month and were able to save quite a bit of money to put toward savings.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Hard-To-Shoot Cat

I know a few of you are interested in updates on our cat Bob (aka Bag O' Bones), who was a starving stray that showed up at our house last July.  When we decided to keep him, we moved him into our back yard, where he made himself right at home.  Last December, just before our first snowfall of the season, we decided to move him into our basement. 

He's a pet -- he has been declawed on his front paws and has been neutered -- so he really prefers to be indoors.  Although we'd like to let him stay in our main living area, our other cats won't tolerate a newbie, so the basement it must be.

We haven't weighed him, but you can see he's much more plump and healthy than he was when he first showed up.  We've been trying to brush him and have been cutting out matted fur, but his fur is just a mess no matter what we do. (I'm looking pretty messy myself in these shots, but enough about me).  He needs a bath, or at least to have his face and eyes wiped with a wash cloth, but we're waiting until it warms up a little before we get him wet.

He's definitely a lover boy and will let you hold him indefinitely.  Never -- not a single time -- has putting him down been his idea.

Bob doesn't make eye contact very often, so it's really hard to get a good shot of him.  Since he loves to be held, I decided a self-portrait shot might be the easiest way to capture a decent picture or two.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Personal Finance on the Playground

Do you ever wonder if anything you say or try to teach your child(ren) sinks in?

At supper last night, Kat said that the subject of allowance had come up among a group of kids at school.  When she told them that she saves her allowance, they looked at her as if she'd sprouted a second head.

They wanted to know why she would do that, and told her that they always spent their allowance as soon as they had the chance.

Her response was that she usually likes to save for bigger things that she wants and doesn't want "cheap $2 stuff that just breaks". 

She said the others told her that "just isn't right" and got up and walked away. 

Kat, with the Lego set she saved for and bought last April.

I don't know what makes me happier - that she is developing good money habits, that she voiced her opinions with confidence, or that she was listening to us in the first place!

Do your kids get an allowance?  If so, do they spend it or save it?  The general rule here is that whatever money Kat gets (allowance, money from extra chores, gift money) is divided as follows:  10% to the charity of her choice (usually the local cat shelter), 10% into her savings account at the brick-and-mortar bank, and 80% to save or spend as she likes. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pressure Cooker Venison Grand Marnier

This recipe originally came from the book "301 Venison Recipes - The Ultimate Deer Hunter's Cookbook".  It's a sweeter twist on classic beef tips and gravy, and one the family really enjoyed. It called for marinating the venison for at least 4-5 hours or overnight.  I didn't plan well enough in advance for that, so I decided to convert the original into a pressure cooker recipe. 

I used venison stew meat, dehydrated minced onions, and a can of mushrooms, so there was no chopping involved.  Feel free to use fresh onion and mushrooms, but be sure to add the mushrooms in before pressure cooking instead of after.  And as always, feel free to use beef instead of venison if you like.

I had this recipe done, start to finish, in about half an hour.  I also made a second batch, uncooked, to freeze.  When I'm ready to serve, I can dump it into the pressure cooker (thawed and frozen) and have dinner ready in a jiffy.

Pressure Cooker Venison Grand Marnier

6 ounces Grand Marnier (or any orange liqueur - I used Triple Sec because we had some)
6 ounces orange juice concentrate
6 ounces white wine
2 cups beef stock
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon dehydrated minced onion
Pinch of ground rosemary
1 to 1-1/2 pounds venison, cut into thin strips or chunks (I used stew meat in about 1" cubes)
1 can mushroom pieces, or 8 oz. fresh mushrooms, chopped or quartered
6 Tablespoons butter
6 Tablespoons flour
browning sauce, such as Kitchen Bouquet
Salt and pepper to taste

Place rack in pressure cooker, and add first 8 ingredients, plus mushrooms if you are using fresh.  Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then attach pressure cooker lid.

When there is steady stream of steam emitting from pressure cooker vent, place weight on vent.  When cooker begins hissing and weight rocks gently, begin timing an cook for 20 minutes.  These directions are for my particular pressure cooker - for optimal safety, always follow the manufacturers directions for you own cooker.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small pan and whisk in flour.  Cook over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes to create a roux.

After 20 minutes, quickly reduce pressure by placing cooker in sink and running cold water over it.  When there is no longer pressure, carefully remove lid and return cooker to stove top.

The broth may have foamed.  If so, either scrape the bits off the sides and out of the cooker, or down into the broth (I prefer down and in, because there is a lot of flavor in those bits).  Bring broth to a gentle boil.

Whisk in roux a spoonful at a time until lump free and as thick as desired.  Whisk in small amounts of browning sauce until desired rich color is achieved.

Serve over rice, pasta or homemade noodles.

Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Front-Lounge Retirement

Last summer, we bought a 1999 5th wheel camper.  It is in excellent shape for a camper of that age, so we don't have any desire to upgrade to anything newer in the foreseeable future.  Still, it can be fun to look at newer models, which is something we had a chance to do at an RV show over the weekend.

Big or small, after looking at a couple of dozen RVs, they all began to look the same.  None really seemed to offer anything we didn't already have, except for updated color schemes.

That was, until we saw this one:

What's special about this is that the living room is over the hitch in the front of the camper.  Most 5th wheels have a bedroom and bathroom over the hitch.  The effect is amazing.  From the moment you walk in, this space feels more like a small apartment than a camper.  From the show's entire selection, this was THE ONE that impressed us.

If our future goes as planned, we'll be spending a lot more time in an RV during our retirement years and when that time comes, we think would like to upgrade to one with this type of layout.  It's definitely a space we could call home -- or at least home away from home.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Homemade Saltines - Worth the Trouble

Sweets happen in our home from time to time, but we really love our salty snacks.  I've been meaning to try baking homemade crackers for a while now, and had several different recipes pinned on Pinterest.  This recipe is a combination of a few of those.  The texture is a little heavier than a commercially-made saltine, but the flavor is nearly identical.  What's more, I know (and can pronounce) every ingredient in them.

We scarfed these down - all 3 dozen of them - as soon as they were cool enough to eat!

Homemade Saltine Crackers

1 cup all purpose flour (you can also try whole wheat or other flours)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
4 to 8 tablespoons water

Heat oven to 400°F.

In bowl of stand mixer (or by hand), combine dry ingredients.  Stir in melted butter, then add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a ball of dough forms and cleans the side of the bowl.

Roll on a very lightly floured surface until very thin, about 1/16-inch.  Cut into 2-inch squares.  I used a ravioli cutting wheel, but you could use a pizza cutter or an ordinary knife. 

Prick each square a couple of times with a fork to reduce bubbling.  Sprinkle with additional salt if desired (I did not and didn't miss it).

Place on ungreased baking sheet (no need to line with silicone mat or parchment, either).  Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes or until just barely beginning to brown on bottom and edges.  Turn off heat, but leave crackers in oven for and additional 20 minutes.  This step is important as it will help make the crackers crisp instead of chewy.

Remove crackers from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Makes 3 to 3-1/2 dozen crackers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Shedding the "All or Nothing" Mentality

I think a lot of us who aspire to the frugal lifestyle sometimes get caught up in the idea that our efforts have to be all or nothing.

This applies equally to those of us who are trying to eat "clean" and keep our homes and gardens as chemical-free as possible. We begin to think that anything less than perfection is a compromise. We let perfect get in the way of good, and best get in the way of better.

Well, let me tell you, I'm not perfect, you aren't perfect, and neither is anyone else.

  • So far this month, I've baked several loaves of homemade bread, ground my own wheat, and even made homemade flour tortillas and saltine crackers.  But I've also bought bread, tortillas, and crackers, and used store-bought white flour.
  • I've dried clothes on my drying racks, but I've also used my dryer.
  • I bought farm eggs and local honey, but I forgot my jugs when I went for raw milk and rather than drive back out to the farm, I bought big-dairy milk at the store.
  • I try to consolidate errands as much as I can to save gas, but I warm the truck up on cold mornings.
  • We harvest rainwater for our gardens to conserve water and save money, but I take a deep, hot bath whenever I want one.
  • We make our own bath soap, laundry soap and toothpaste, but still use Dawn for dishes and commercial deodorant (for now, anyway).

We have given up striving for best and perfect.  But we do try to make better choices and execute better practices, and will continue to try to improve.  We don't let the idea of perfection stop us in our tracks.

That's good enough for us.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Testing Garden Seeds

Planting time is just around the corner, and if you're like us, you have seeds left from last season, the season before, or even the season before that.  You may be wondering if those "old" seeds are any good.

Today I set up some seed tests to find out about our seeds.  I gathered our old seeds...

and some paper towels, zippered sandwich bags (this is a good way to recycle/reuse them), a marker, and a spray bottle of water.

I laid out a paper towel and placed 10 seeds of the same variety on it.  I folded the towel and sprayed it with water.  It doesn't need to be soaking wet, but needs to be quite damp.

I sealed the wet towel and seeds in a zipper bag and labeled it with the seed variety, the seed company (so I know which packet I'm trying to germinate), today's date and how many days it should take for the seeds to germinate.  Except for the current date, all of this information was on the seed packet.

Once the packets are filled and labeled, I pinned them to my little "clothesline" strung above my south-facing kitchen window.  If I do more, I'll end up taping them to our south-facing back patio door.

If I keep the towels moist, within a few days to a week, the seeds should start to germinate.  When the appropriate number of days have passed, I'll count the seeds that have germinated in each packet of ten seeds.  If 7 or more seeds have germinated, the seeds are viable just as they are and should be planted spaced as directed on the original seed packet.  If 4 to 6 have germinated, I can still use them, but will probably want to plant with a heavy hand.  If 3 or fewer seeds have germinated, I will replace the seeds with newer ones.

Seed testing is a good way for us to save money by not buying new seeds if we don't need them.  On the other hand, it's a good way to save time by not having to replant seeds that were never going to germinate in the first place.

Do you test your old seeds before planting?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Italian Venison (or Beef) Steak

I was hoping to come up with something clever, witty, and generally brilliant today, so here....have a recipe.

I found this recipe in a cookbook called "301 Venison Recipes - The Ultimate Deer Hunter's Cookbook". If you don't eat venison, use beef (or pork or chicken).  This recipe is similar to Veal Parmesan and was great served over a bed of spaghetti.  Kat asked me to put it on "the make it again list".  Most cuts of venison will work, since the meat is tenderized, but if you have backstrap or tenderloin, I'd recommend using those.

Venison Parmesan

Italian Venison Steak

4 venison cubed steaks or tenderized round steaks (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup flour or crushed crackers (I used whole wheat flour seasoned with salt and pepper)
1 egg, beaten
1 jar (26 ounces) pasta sauce (I used our home-canned sauce)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used provolone with just a bit of Parmesan)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Slowly heat oil in large oven-proof skillet.  Dip steaks in egg, then in flour mixture.  Brown on both sides in hot oil.  Drain oil from pan; return steaks to pan.  Spoon pasta sauce over steaks.  Bake, covered, for 45 minutes (use foil if your skillet has no lid).  Top with cheese and return to oven for 5 minutes to melt.  Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Easy Way to Organize Winter Accessories

Maybe I'm just strange, but as soon as Christmas is over and the holiday decorations are put away, I'm itchin' to start spring cleaning.  I think it must be something about the New Year, fresh starts, clean slates and all that.

This year has been no different.  I jumped right in with the cleaning during the last weekend of December, beginning with our coat closet.  I needed a good solution for storing hats, gloves and scarves. 

I remembered that I had an over-the-door shoe organizer that I was no longer using for yarn.  (Well, that sentence makes sense to everyone in my household...). 

I moved it to the inside of the coat closet door, and there you have it -- instant organization.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sausage and Cabbage Skillet

The end of December found me with a head of Napa cabbage that I'd bought for a different recipe that I ended up not making.  Further scrounging in the fridge netted some very flavorful pan juices from our Christmas ham, half an onion, and some carrots.  With barley from the pantry and a pound of spicy pork breakfast sausage from the freezer, I came up with this.

Shane and I loved it (Kat wasn't home to try it), and I'll be making it again.  It's a great flex recipe.  Use any kind of cabbage or fresh greens instead of Napa cabbage.  Try it with mild sausage, Italian sausage, or chorizo.  Use rice or quinoa instead of barley, although I do recommend cooking the grain in a flavorful broth instead of plain water.  All the better if the broth is homemade.

This can easily be a one-dish meal, and makes four servings if you eat like a normal person.  If you pig out like we did that night, don't expect more than two servings.

Pork Breakfast Sausage and Napa Cabbage Skillet

Sausage and Cabbage Skillet

1/2 cup barley
1-1/2 cups meat or vegetable stock (I used ham stock)
1 pound pork breakfast sausage
1 head Napa cabbage or any other cabbage or greens
1/2 large onion, sliced into strips
1 carrot, peeled and grated
salt and pepper as desired (will depend on the sausage and stock you use; I didn't add any)

Rinse barley and put in small saucepan with stock.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and barley is tender.

Meanwhile, brown sausage in a large skillet or Dutch oven.  Drain fat if necessary, but leave about 2 Tablespoons of drippings in the pan. 

Chop Napa cabbage, or slice into 1/2-inch strips and add to sausage in pan, along with onion strips and grated carrot.  Cook and stir mixture over medium-high heat until vegetables are tender.  Cover and keep mixture warm until barley has finished cooking.

Once barley is tender, stir into cabbage and sausage mixture. 

Serve hot.

Friday, January 4, 2013

You Say You Want A Resolution?

Well, you know...

I prefer goals.  Goals, to me, imply moving forward toward something in a positive light.  Resolutions just seem a little heavy and negative:  this is something that's wrong with me that I'm going to try to fix.   Who needs that?  I certainly don't.

Anyway...I set just two goals last year.  The first was to read 26 books, one every two weeks.  The year before I read twice that many, so I thought 26 would be a breeze.  I barely made it.

My other goal was to do a craft project each month.  Forced leisure, if you will.  I ended up completing just six projects.  What happened?  Mostly, I have this hangup about needing to have all my housework done before I take time to craft.  I also have this thing about being on the Internet too often and for too long.  Basically, I just didn't make crafting a priority, although I enjoy it very much when I do make time for it.

Taken as a pair, I failed rather miserably at the goals I set last year.  So, this year I think I'll add even more.  Seems like backwards logic, but I tend to work better under pressure.

  I truly LOVE reading and will do it with or without a goal.  However, I enjoy tracking what I read on Goodreads, so I'll give it a number.  Instead of one every two weeks for a total of 26, this year I'll say three every two months for a total of 18

In addition, I have a year's worth of Mother Earth News and Hobby Farm Home magazines that I didn't make time to read when the issues arrived.  There's good stuff in those magazines, and I'm finally gonna read 'em, by golly!

Crafting:  I've been using our RV as a sewing/crafting studio, which is working well.  I like being able to leave my project out when I'm done for the day without fear of spilled food or crazy cats ruining it.  I'll stick with one project each month for a total of 12.  I'll go one further with this and get down to specifics.  One of the projects I want to complete is a pair of hand-knitted socks.  I also want to try my hand at quilting something, even if it's just a small table runner.  Wish me luck!

Gardening:  We've been flying by the seat of our pants long enough -- organization is the goal this year.  I purchased the downloadable garden planner and journal from Northwest Edible Life and I'm gonna get this thing squared away.  If you haven't seen this planner, take a look.  One affordable download lets you print a well-designed, fully customizable garden planner for the rest of your life!  That's a bargain at any price.  This goal isn't quantifiable, but I WILL get my garden plans in order this year.

Nutrition/Diet:  We're working toward a SOLE food diet around here, and I believe the best way to change my families eating habits is to make changes gradually.  When we eat at home, we eat pork and fish from within 100 miles. We consume eggs, honey, raw milk, and venison, all from within our county. We grow a lot of our own veggies and berries in our backyard. We eat what we believe are the good fats (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, lard) and I bake mostly with whole wheat flour that I grind myself. 

Sugar is still an issue for us; this year I want to get us completely switched over to the "good" (which really only means "less bad") sweeteners.   I want to find a source for local, free-range chicken, and I'd also like for even more of the foods we eat to come from our own backyard, which also ties in with our gardening goals.

Fitness:  Exercise and I have long history of not getting along.  In general, unless exercise can help me get something else done - like hanging laundry or planting potatoes - I don't want anything to do with it.  This month, though, I'm going to try something new; I'll be joining a Beginners' Yoga class in a setting I think I will enjoy.  My goal is more flexibility, better balance, and better health over all.

Finances:  I sure would like to pay off our RV this year.  I'm not sure if that can happen or not, especially now that we must update the wiring in our home, but it's a goal well worth effort.

In addition, there are those other goals -- to be a better parent, to get more exercise, to laugh more, to be more kind, to learn more, to enjoy life more fully -- but I hope all of us strive for those kinds of goal, all year round.

Now it's your turn.  Do you have any goals or resolutions this year?  Share them (or link back to your blog post) in the comments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

Happy New Year!  I hope all of you had a fun and safe New Year's Eve, and a relaxing (or perhaps, recuperative) day yesterday. 

I'd also like to say welcome to the second year of Haphazard Homestead!

Yes, I made it an entire year, but not without the occasional -- okay, frequent -- thought of throwing in the towel.  Sometimes I get fed up, overwhelmed or under-inspired by blogging.  I would imagine we've all been there.  In the past, I'd just close shop for a while, but before long, I'd feel the itch to set up a new blog and start writing again.

Not this time.  This time I'm just going to keep going -- but with changes.  Simply put, I'm looking to free up time to pursue other interests without giving up blogging entirely.  So, starting this week, I'm going to be a M-W-F blogger.  Three posts a week should keep me in touch without burning me out.  I'll see how it goes for a couple of months, then make adjustments if I think I should.

I'm also thinking of opting out of the Facebook scene for this blog.  As Facebook becomes more and more difficult and unreliable, especially for those of us with promotional Pages, I'm thinking of switching to Twitter or Google+, or dropping the social media idea altogether.  Any feedback you can offer will help me make this decision.

Meanwhile, I hope you'll stick with me.  Feel free to tell me if there's anything you'd like to see here.  More on budgeting?  Gardening?  Home projects?  Nutrition and/or recipes?  Cat pics?  I can do those things.  Just let me know.
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