Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Resolution Review

Since Shane will be home and our weekend will begin tomorrow, and since the last day of February is today, I decided to write my Friday post today.

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

  • 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).
  • February Progress - Read 2 books (5 of 18 total), and 5 of the  magazines (6 of 38 total). 
The books I read were:

  • Goal - 12 completed projects, preferably one a month, with one being a quilted item and another being knit socks.
  • February Progress - Started and completed one toe-up knitted socks. ( 1.5 of 12 total)
I taught myself to crochet around the age of 12 or 13.  A few years later, I taught myself to knit.  I don't consider myself an accomplished knitter, and think it's more difficult than crocheting, but I usually do alright.  These socks were probably the most challenging knitting project I've tackled.  The work itself is not difficult, but just finding a pattern I could make sense of took days.  I made irreparable mistakes causing me to start over several times, but with each re-do, the quality improved.  A few nights ago I was determined to finish the sock, but come 2:00 a.m. when the yarn was about to run out, I completely forgot to consider that I needed a stretchy bind-off.  I bound off in a traditional way and couldn't get the thing over my foot.  So, I had to rework that, and now it might be too stretchy, but at least I'll be able to wear it (and learned a stretchy bind-off to boot!).

The sock isn't without flaws, by far, but it will be wearable, and I'm looking forward to finishing the pair.  What's more, now that I have a clue what I'm doing, I'll probably make more socks in the future.

My first sock!  It's in Paton Kroy washable wool
sock yarn; the colorway is Clover Colors.

  • Goal - Organized planning, leading to an organized garden.
  • February Progress - Our printer quit working and I haven't replaced it yet, so I haven't been able to use the garden planning downloads I bought.  However, I've been planning all the same.  I know what we will be planting, in approximate quantities, and have ordered seeds.

  • 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.
  • February Progress - I have to admit that I haven't made any progress toward finding less harmful sweeteners since last month.
In other nutrition news, I've started making kombucha tea and tibicos soda (aka, water kefir) again after letting both go dormant for a few months at the end of last year.  Since re-establishing the habit of drinking a cup of one or the other -- or both -- daily again, I've felt a noticeable improvement in the way I feel.  To me, they are like safer, more natural energy drink and they are good for your gut.  IMO, they taste good, too.

  • Goal - To join a local yoga class better flexibility, balance and overall health.
  • February Progress - I have not found a different yoga class to join and to be honest, haven't given it much thought.

  • Goal - To pay off our RV.
  • February Progress - A little.  When we first bought the RV, I padded our first two monthly payment by about $90, rounding it to the next hundred dollar amount.  For the next five months, though, I wasn't comfortable doing that.  We are in a position now that I can start paying extra again each month and even start catching up on the five months when I wasn't able to pay extra.  Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Snow

Robyn, my online friend from Australia (with whom I traded aprons last year), mentioned that she'd like to see pictures of all the snow we've been getting.  I'm happy to post them.

This first picture was taken Monday of this week, following the snow we had last Thursday.  At our house, we had about 11 inches of snow, and as you can see, there was about 7-8 inches of it still on the ground.

The rest of these were taken yesterday, after another 9+ inches fell.  We were fortunate not to get the 15 or more inches that were originally in the forecast.

No grilling for a while.

Can you believe this is 6-7 foot tall dogwood?
I'm happy to say I think it will recover.

And this one usually looks like a traditional Christmas tree.

At least 50 shades of gray here.

Shane is working out of town this week, so I've been digging out in stages.  I've done the back deck twice, both times so our semi-feral cat can find his way up to eat.  I did the front steps and sidewalk as far as the driveway this morning, and in a while I'll go back out and finish the driveway. 

It's still snowing very lightly, but at least it has stopped accumulating.  It's a pain in the butt, but it will be oh-so-good for the garden later this spring.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Garden Planning - Step 2 - Buying Seed

Knowing how much to plant each year is the hardest step in garden planning, I think.  As far as I can tell, no matter how I choose to calculate amounts, I'm going to get them wrong. That said, I still think it's better to work on this step and at least have an idea, rather than to just forge ahead blindly.  After all, neither a truckload of zucchini nor a spoonful of peas will do me much good.

I started out by taking my initial list from Step 1 and considering how much we eat of each.  This isn't an exact science, and some calculations will be less brain twisting easier than others. 

One way to figure amounts is to determine how many times a week your family eats a vegetable, multiply that by the number of people in your family, then by 52 weeks a year to determine your annual consumption in servings.  It's easy enough to Google to find out how many servings are in a pound of that particular vegetable, but if you can find even two websites that remotely agree on how many pounds per plant that vegetable will yield, please send them to me, because I couldn't find them.

Another way to plan is to remember how much you planted last year.  Every year we plant about 8 square feet of lettuce.  We don't plant it in rows, we just broadcast the seeds.  Every year I'm certain it won't be enough to satisfy those early spring cravings for fresh salads.  Every year it ends up being too much and bolting and/or getting bitter before we can eat it all.  Every year the excess becomes cheap filler for the compost pile.  In an odd way, this works for us, so why fix what isn't broken?

So this is how I proceeded, best-guessing my way through the roster of things we'd like to grow, and ultimately moving a few more things off the planting list and onto the purchasing list.  Once this list was finalized, Shane and I compared it with the seeds we already have on hand and know are good, then we ordered the rest. 

At this point in our gardening experience, I don't feel qualified to recommend specific varieties or seed sources. I will tell you that most of the seeds we already have on hand came from Hometown Seeds in a promo pack I received a few years ago.  Our seed potatoes were gifted to us (thanks, Melinda!).  We ordered the rest of what we needed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, both because they sell non-GMO seeds and because they are located in our home state.  We have just a few things left to buy; we'll probably get those from local nurseries.  You'll have to do your own research and make the decisions that are best for your family.

Next up...I plan the layout of the garden while I wait for the snow to melt.

Friday, February 22, 2013


In anticipation of the snow storm, I missed Wednesday's post; today's won't be much of one either, unfortunately.

In the city, nights are bright when snow's on the ground.
Taken 10:00 last night, out our back door, with no flash.

We're sitting in snow, 10-12 inches deep right now.  With Shane and Kat both home yesterday and today, the house is feeling a a little full for weekdays.  It's hard for me to find my regular groove, blog writing included.

So, I've been doing what needs to be done, but otherwise I've been immersed neck deep in the archives of a blog I just discovered called Hickery Holler Farm.  The Canned Quilter is also a Missouri blogger and it appears we have a lot in common.

I hope to get Shane involved in some more garden planning this weekend because this snow won't last long and garden season truly is right around the corner.  With luck, I'll have more about that on Monday.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chickens On The Table - Chickens Off The Table

On the table...

The 30-Year Old Cooking Virgin's Skillet Basil Cream Chicken on Valentine's Day, Paula Deen's Southern Fried Chicken on Friday, and Deep South Dish's Chicken and Dumpling Bake Casserole on Sunday.

Paula's kitchen...

Off the table...

The idea of keeping laying hens in our backyard.  We've been thinking about it for three years and keep putting it off, mostly because Shane has fairly frequent out-of-town work.  I'm just not willing to make a chicken commitment at this time without him home steadily.  Maybe someday, but not right now. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Garden Planning - Step 1 - Knowing What You Eat

I've mentioned before that I bought a neat-o perpetual garden planner download from Northwest Edible Life, and have all intentions of using it this year, but our printer pooped out last week.  Until I can find a replacement printer for cheap or find time to take the file to be printed out at a printer-outer shop, I'm stuck with old-school pencil and paper.

I had to do a little research to remember, but I've determined that this will be our fifth season in the garden.  In the past, we've grown a little of this, a little of that, and whatever sounded interesting.  It's a fun way to garden, and a great way to learn what you like, don't like, can grow well, or can't grow at all.

This year, though, we're approaching gardening a little differently.  There will still be plenty of variety and a bit of novelty, but we're really going to focus on growing what we eat most.

With that in mind, the first step in this year's plan was to write down everything I could think of that we eat that is plant-based.  From tomatoes to dry beans to rice to tea to pineapple.  I used a seed catalog or two to help me remember everything and I wrote down things I know we can't grow simply because they might jog my memory about things we can grow here.

Then I went through and crossed off anything that we can't grow in our area (things like citrus, tropicals, coffee) and anything we don't have room to grow (grains, mostly) and things I'm just not ready to try yet (grapes, mushrooms).

Once that was done, I considered our family demand.  How often do we eat these foods?

There are several vegetables, fruits, and berries that we eat often and grow well for us.  Because these are on our menu several times a week all year round, these will be the biggest money-savers and nutrition-givers.  They will stay on the list.  Frequently-used herbs also stay at the top of the list.  For some reason I'm not very successfully at growing herbs, but if I can get successful, then cha-ching!  Big savings!

Several crops will grow well for us, but we don't eat them as often.  They'll be planted if we can work them in, or dropped without regret if we can't. 

Some foods are better for us to purchase, either because we don't eat that much of them, we have tried growing them before with little or no luck, we know they won't grow here at all (coconuts, anyone?), or we don't have room to grow them even though they will grow here (wheat is good example).  Unless we just want to try a couple of these crops for the fun of it, they won't make the cut.

The end result should be a fairly accurate list (below) of what we'll be planting this year.  Your list will vary depending on your appetite, gardening zone, skill level and space limitations.

Already-Established Perennials:


Definitely Will Plant:
Green beans
Lettuce, variety
Onions, bulbing
Dry beans
Zucchini or other summer squashes
Onions, green (scallions)
Swiss chard
Bell peppers

Will Plant If It Works Out:
Sweet Corn
Peas (shell-out and snow varieties)
Brussels sprouts
Napa cabbage
Collard greens
Jalapeno peppers
Winter squash (butternut, acorn)
Ground cherries
Summer savory
Sesame (for seeds)
Gooseberry bush(es)
Peach tree(s)

Be prepared.  Next week, we start talking numbers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spring Cleaning

The blog has been heavy on recipes lately.  That's because, when I'm busy, they seem to be the easiest things for me to post.

And busy I've been!  I've been spring cleaning.  I started in right after Christmas, tackling one room at a time, beginning with the living room as we were taking the tree down and putting away decorations.

From there I moved to the master bedroom, then to Kat's room, the bathroom and hallway, the kitchen (two full days on that one), and finally the computer/craft room.  Yep, it's a small house, but we have LOTS of stuff.  Things were cleaned and then organized, or sorted to be donated or sold in a garage sale we plan to have in a couple of months.  Walls were wiped down, ceiling fans were washed or dusted, windows and blinds were cleaned, and floors were scrubbed.  It wasn't a non-stop cleaning marathon, though.  Some rooms only took a few hours, but they were spread out over a week.

My really clean kitchen, for the five whole minutes it stayed that way.

Shane helped a lot with the living room and our bedroom, and he spot cleaned the carpeting.  Kat helped me with her own room, but the rest of the house was up to me.  That was my choice, though, so I'm not complaining.

There is still a lot to do around here (garage, basement, shed all come to mind), but it's so nice to have the main living areas really clean.  It's almost like a fresh start, which is just what spring cleaning is meant to be, I think.

And with cleaning out of the of the way, full-blown garden planning is on!  I hope to have more to say about that the next time I come up for air.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

Here's a delightful cupcake recipe that combines strawberries with the refreshing taste of lemonade. I was going to save this recipe for spring, when our own strawberries are available, but strawberries are beginning to show up in the grocery stores, and this recipe is just too perfectly pink to pass up for Valentine's Day.

Because the frosting contains fresh berry puree (just fresh or frozen berries, blended with sugar to taste), I recommend keeping leftover cupcakes refrigerated. For best flavor, allow to cupcakes rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

cup butter
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup strawberry puree
2/3 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 recipe Strawberry Lemonade Frosting (below)

Heat oven to 350°F. 

Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line two dozen 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer 30 seconds or until fluffy.

Add sugar, lemon peel, lemon juice, and strawberry puree; beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl as needed.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined.  Eggs with orange yolks may make batter appear peach in color instead of pink.  The cake will bake to a pale yellow, but if you desire, add a drop or two of red food coloring.

Using a medium cookie or ice cream scoop, scoop batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each about three-fourths full.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in muffin pans for 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes from pans and place on wire racks to cool completely.

Once cooled, frost cupcakes with Strawberry Lemonade Frosting.

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes.

Strawberry Lemonade Frosting

cup butter (6 Tablespoons)
4-1/2 to 5 cups powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
6 Tablespoons strawberry puree

Allow butter to soften at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Beat in 1 cup of powdered sugar until well blended.

Beat in lemon juice and strawberry puree.

Gradually beat in the remaining powdered sugar until frosting reaches desired consistency.  Spread or pipe frosting onto cupcakes as desired.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Asian-Style Venison and Vegetables

Chinese New Year is Sunday, February 10. Here is a quick Asian-style skillet (or wok) meal for the occasion. Served over rice or noodles, this could be a complete meal.

And, of course, use any meat that you like.  Beef, pork, chicken or even shrimp would all work just fine in this recipe.

Asian-Style Venison and Vegetables

1 pound venison or beef steaks, sliced across grain as for fajitas (or use chicken, pork, etc.)
4 cups vegetables, cut into bite-sized chunks (I used zucchini, onion, red and yellow bell peppers, celery and Brussels sprouts)
1 teaspoon cornstarch


1/2 cup soy sauce (low-sodium might be preferred)
1/3 cup orange marmalade
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons Srirachi sauce (optional - I used 1 teaspoon with the option of adding more at the table)

Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl until smooth.

Place meat in one bowl (or food-safe plastic zipper bag), and vegetables in a separate bowl or bag.  Pour half of marinade over meat, half over the veggies.  Stir each, cover (or zip shut) and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.  Stir or shake contents of each container occasionally.

Drain meat, reserving marinade. 

Heat peanut oil over medium high heat in a large skillet or wok.  Add meat to pan and stir-fry until no longer pink and just barely cooked through.  Remove from skillet and set aside in a covered dish to keep it warm.

Drain vegetables, reserving marinade.

In same skillet, over medium-high heat, add a small amount of additional oil if needed, then stir-fry vegetables until tender-crisp.  Return meat to pan.

Place 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a glass measuring cup.  Gradually whisk in up to 1 cup of reserved marinade.  If needed, add water to make 1 cup.  Pour mixture into skillet with vegetables and meat, stirring constantly until sauce begins to thicken just slightly.

Serve immediately over hot cooked noodles, rice or other grain (quinoa pictured).

Makes 4 servings.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Make Your Own Egg Roll Wraps

There are a couple of different egg roll wraps that can be made at home.  I'm most familiar with the rolled "noodle" type of dough, but this recipe is for a wrap made from a crepe-like batter that is cooked in a small skillet on top of the stove.  The wraps are then filled and fried like any other egg roll.  The finished product was unlike any egg roll we've had before -- a bit soft after frying -- but I enjoyed them and they were a HUGE hit with Kat and Shane.

Homemade Egg Roll Wraps

1½ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 eggs
1½ cups water
Peanut oil

Combine flour, salt and cornstarch in a large bowl.

Crack eggs into a small bowl and beat using an electric mixer.

Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture, and beat using the mixer.  Gradually pour in water as you blend.  Batter will be thin and smooth.

Pour a small amount of peanut oil into a small (6- to 7-inch) skillet.  Using a paper towel, spread oil over all of skillet's cooking surface.  Heat skillet over low heat.

Pour 2 Tablespoons of batter into skillet and tilt skillet in a circular motion to spread batter over cooking surface.  Batter should cover most of cooking surface.

When batter begins to pull away from the skillet at the edges, remove it from skillet and place it on a tray.  The top of the batter should look dry or nearly so when you remove it from the pan.

Place a damp towel over the cooked egg roll wrapper to keep it from drying out.

Wipe skillet with oiled paper towel and repeat entire process until all the batter has been cooked.

To make egg rolls, prepare your favorite filling* and let cool to room temperature (or chill).  Place about a tablespoon of filling in center of wrapper.  Fold up edge nearest you, then fold in sides, Using a thin paste of cornstarch and water, brush last exposed edge of wrapper and finish rolling as you would a burrito, pressing edges to seal.

Deep fry until golden brown.

Number of wrappers made will depend on their size.

*We like a simple filling of shredded cabbage sauteed with ground pork and seasoned with black pepper and soy sauce, but many recipes for other fillings can be found online.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Homemade Fortune Cookies

Chinese New Year is Sunday, February 10.  This week will feature three Asian-style recipes you can make this weekend.


Admit it.  The fortune cookies you get at the end of your Chinese restaurant meal aren't all that tasty.  If you're lucky, they taste like vanilla cardboard.  And if you're not so lucky, well, they're just...bad.  The good news is that they aren't very hard to make at home.  It's just a quick batter, baked and wrapped around hand-written fortunes or silly sayings.

Fortune cookies, while not complicated, can be just a little tricky to make.  Here are a few tips:
  • I found that using parchment paper for these works better than a silicone mat, a greased pan or a pan lined with foil. 
  • Tilting the pan in a circular motion seems to work better than trying to spread the batter with the back of a spoon.
  • Wearing cotton or silicone gloves makes it easier to handle and shape the hot cookies. 
  • Setting the folded cookies in the cups of a muffin tin will help them to hold their shape until the cool and become firm. 
  • You may want to make two batches, because you'll finally get the hang of shaping these by the end of the first batch.
Begin by writing fortunes on 3-1/2 inch by  x 1/2 inch strips of paper, then follow the recipe.

Homemade Fortune Cookies

2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons oil of choice (something with neutral flavor)
1/2 cup flour (probably best to use white flour in these)
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons water

Heat oven to 300°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg white, vanilla and almond extracts, and oil until frothy, but not stiff.

In a separate boil the flour, cornstarch, salt and sugar. Stir the water into the flour mixture.

Add the flour and water mixture into the egg white mixture and stir until you have a smooth batter. The batter should not be runny, but should pour or drop easily off a wooden spoon.

Place level tablespoons of batter onto the lined cookie sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart. Gently tilt the baking sheet in a circular motion so that each tablespoon of batter forms a 4-inch circle.

Bake until the outer edges of each cookie turns golden brown and they are easy to remove from the baking sheet with a spatula (14 - 15 minutes).  

Working quickly, remove the cookie with a spatula and flip it over in your hand*. Place a fortune in the middle of a cookie. To form the fortune cookie, fold the cookie in half, then gently pull the edges downward over the rim of a glass, wooden spoon or the edge of a muffin tin. Place the finished cookie in the cup of the muffin tin until cooled.

Continue with the rest of the cookies and batter.

Makes 9-12 fortune cookies.

* Flipping and placing the fortune on the side that was touching the pan results in a better looking cookie, IMO.

Friday, February 1, 2013

But They Were Delicious

I'm sure most of you have seen sites like PinterestFail or Epic Pinterest Fail.  Well, here's my most successful failure so far.

I tried to make these lovely Breakfast Wafflewiches from Kitchen Simplicity for supper the other night:

I was off to a good start.  Kat's simple sandwich of just egg, bacon and cheese didn't turn out half bad:

But when I added tomato slices and spinach leaves to mine and Shane's the results were...


see for yourself:

They give scrambled eggs a whole new meaning, but I have to say, they were delicious!
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