Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Making hay

In the spirit of making hay while the sun shines, I spent some time last week raking up grass clippings with Bubby.

Now, before you ask, yes, we have a mulching blade on our lawn mower.  The grass is just being really ... prolific ... at this point in the summer, and our lawn boy is having trouble keeping up with it.  In addition, I can use the grass clippings in my garden to suppress weeds and in my compost bin to make nutrient-filled new soil.  Otherwise, I would not be raking grass, even if leaving it will kill the grass underneath.  Less grass = less grass to cut.

Three take-aways from this experience:

1. It is easier to rake grass with a leaf rake versus a garden rake.  I was actually kind of happy when Bubby decided he needed yet another break, which happened with increasing frequency throughout the task, because that meant I got to use the leaf rake for a few minutes.

2.  It would be even easier if our mower had a collector on it.

3.  Three acres is a lot of grass to rake.

In this part of the yard, we raked the grass into long fat "snakes"
Later on, the lawn boy drove the tractor along-side
to make it easy for us to load the grass into the trailer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Menu Plan for the week of June 29

Hey y'all.  This weeks' menu plan isn't so much a menu plan as it's a we-are-missing-a-good-chunk-of-our-family-because-they're-at-Boy-Scout-camp-but-the-rest-of-us-still-need-to-eat plan.  Anyone else have a hard time planning meals when it's not for the whole family?  I find this so strange.  I mean, I had no trouble at all planning meals when it was just me and Hubby, and then I had no trouble as we added each member of the family.  But now that I'm cooking for 5 or more most of the time, when we have much less than that, I almost feel like it's not worth it to cook.

We will not be eating Jackolope this week.
We also did not eat jackolope when we were in South Dakota

This does not bode well for our empty nest years.

Fortunately, I'm aware of this issue, so I can begin preparing mentally for that eventuality.  Also fortunately, we have at least 11 years before our nest can achieve full empty.  Whew.  I think that might be enough time to get used to the idea of cooking for 2 again.

So we're going with convenient food this week.  Food that I know the two remaining boys in the house will eat.  You might notice it's a little heavy on the guacamole.  Also Mexican-type foods.  It's a little repetitive.  But everyone who's still here will eat.  Here's what we got:

Supper:
--Corn dogs (taco for me), green beans, strawberries
--Hot dogs (taco bean soup for me), broccoli/cauliflower/carrots, cherries
--Tacos with guacamole and taco fixings
--Hamburgers with or without buns, but guacamole is not optional, salad, carrots, applesauce
--Nachos with guacamole and fixings
--Grilled pizza, salad
--Grilled chicken, corn on the cob, salad, pineapple


Other:
--Greek yogurt
--Granola
--Cinnamon swirl bread
--Chicken salad

In the Bad Lands
I didn't think they were so bad, but I do see those French traders' point.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hello? I'm still here.

I have so many little things to do.  You know how that is, right?  Those little things that have to be done, but they're kind of easy to not do, too.  And then they pile up.  Yup.

Apparently there's this guy.  He's probably an expert or a professional. At something.  In any case, he sounds like he's a very productive person and he uses his time efficiently.  And he says, if whatever you have to do will take 2 minutes or less, you should do it.  Right then.  Instead of putting it off.  And I think that's great advice in general.  I mean, if you do it right away, it's done, and you don't have to waste any more mental energy thinking about how it needs to get done.

But here's my problem.  I have so many things to do that will take 2 minutes or less each.  But all added up together, they will take much longer than 2 minutes.  Like, for instance, I've been doing 2 minutes or less things pretty much all day.  I'd say...a good 2 hours' worth, at least.

Yeah.  It's discouraging, and a little overwhelming.  Give me a good 15 or 30 or 60 minute job any day, over seven or fourteen or twenty-eight 2 minute jobs.

AKD and I took a bike ride out to the beach
This is the only picture I took on our first trip!

The kids have been out of school since June 5, and I feel like our summer hasn't even started yet.  See, the day after the last day of school, we headed out for a 9 day trip to visit with my parents and Hubby's family.  Then we were home for 4 days, during which time we feverishly unpacked, did laundry, and repacked (there were also medical appointments, soccer, and physical training) before leaving for a 6 day visit (the other way) with my brother and his family.  

Upon our return home, we did the whole unpack, wash laundry, and repack thing again, this time in 2 days, to get 60% of the family ready to head off to Boy Scout camp. And silly me planned an excursion an hour and a half away during those 2 days to pick up my Zaycon chicken (referral link--sign up to support this blog and get great prices on meat).  And since we were driving all that way, we decided to make a day of it, with AKD and his buddy biking 22 miles, and the rest of us hanging at a water park.  So really, those 2 days were just 1 (and on that 1 day there were two medical appointments, physical training, and snacks shopping).

Somewhere in South Dakota.  What a great looking family.
Except that guy in the back looks like he's trying to hide...
Is it any wonder I have so many little things to do?  We haven't been home much, and when we have been home, we've been rushing around getting ready to leave again.

Whew!  So I say again, it feels like our summer hasn't even started yet.  And at the same time, it's 1/3 over--the kids go back to school on September 1.  Crazy stuff.

I wonder if I will feel like summer has started this week, or if I will need to wait until all the boys are home to feel that way.

Anyway, just wanted to check in and let you know I'm still here.  I know you know how it is.  Lots to do, limited time, limited brain space to devote to little tasks.  I know it'll all get done.  Or not.  And it'll be OK either way.

How's your summer going?

Our attempt at copying Mt. Rushmore.  Not too bad.
They're all looking approximately the right way, and the relative heights are right.
Perhaps I should have had them remove their hats and sunglasses?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Lego Storage Problem

It all started when, a couple of weeks ago, I decided I wanted to build a Lego dump truck.  From the instructions.


It was, in fact, this dump truck.

OK, let's back up.  It actually started many moons ago, when 5 year old AKD received his first Lego set.  I am a rule-follower.  An instruction-reader.  When it suits me, that is.  I am concerned with doing things the right way.  And I wanted to keep all of the Lego pieces from each individual set in their own individual containers.  So we could easily find all the pieces and build the sets again.

AKD is not so much of a rule follower, at least when it comes to Lego.  He preferred (still does) to build the set once, and then cannibalize that set to make exciting new creations.  I admire that about AKD.  I really do.  But it drives my inner compulsive neatener bonkers.

And so we ended up, many years, and 2 more children (one of whom prefers to keep his Lego creations together and the other of whom prefers to tear his apart to recombine in new and interesting ways), later with a HUGE bin full of almost every Lego piece that's ever made its way into our possession.

So, back to a couple of weeks ago.  I found the instructions for the dump truck.  It was a little dump truck, with not so many pieces, and I figured it would be pretty easy to find the pieces and put it together.

I was wrong.  So, so wrong.

I don't know how many Lego bricks we have, but it numbers in the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands.  And finding the one small black or gray or yellow piece that I needed among all of those thousands of Legos proved ... difficult.

Enough, I decided, and I set out right then and there to sort the bricks.  I recruited some helpers, and they were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about the project.

So here's the deal with Lego.  There are too many ways to sort them.  You can sort by set (my preferred method, obviously, but that boat sailed a long time ago).  You can sort by color.  You can sort by piece type.  You can sort by color and piece type.  Too many categories.

We went with color.  Because it's the least ambiguous of the methods.  A piece is either black or not black, red or not red.  Except the pieces that are black and gray or yellow and black.

And now, we have this:


Isn't it beautiful?  A tower of bricks, neatly organized by color.*

And I still can't find all the pieces for my dump truck.

The rule-follower in me feels a little thrill every time I see the beautiful order my team and I brought to the cacophony of Lego.  The realistic mama in me realizes it's only a matter of time before this system fails, becoming, once more, a jumbled mess.

And, if I'm honest, I think my Lego builders find that jumbled mess to be infinitely more inspiring than my beautiful organized drawers.

How do you store your Lego?  Do you build them and keep them together?  Jumble all the pieces together?  Or do something in between?

* Wondering where I got this gorgeous unit?  It's actually two 6-drawer scrapbook paper organizers that I found on clearance at Target.  They're similar to this (I can't find this exact one online, which, you know, makes sense, considering they don't make it anymore).

Monday, June 8, 2015

Hubby likes ice cream

Hubby likes ice cream.

Yeah, I know.  Who doesn't?  But Hubby likes a very specific concoction of ice cream components.  At least twice a week, and sometimes every day in a week, at the end of the day you can find Hubby enjoying a bowl of vanilla ice cream with peanuts and chocolate syrup.  He likes this combination so much, he gets a little cranky if one of these essential ingredients is missing.

Several months ago, we were out of chocolate syrup.  I don't want Hubby to be cranky, so I decided to make some, using this recipe.

It was a hit!  Everyone liked it, and some of them even liked it better than store bought.  So I kept making it.

Here's what I store it in.


It's a nice container for dispensing chocolate syrup.  Much less messy than the mason jar I had been using.

This is what I store my lime juice in.


They're remarkably similar.  In fact, they are identical in shape and color.  The only difference is the label.  And the fact that one has chocolate syrup and the other has lime juice in it.  If one was not paying attention, one might accidentally mistake one for the other.

That would be a bummer.  And sour.


Not that that's ever happened, or anything.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

{Revised} Creamy Homemade Greek Yogurt

Lately, I've been loving this combo for breakfast:


A cup of homemade Greek yogurt with a splash of vanilla extract and sweetener to taste, topped with chopped fresh strawberries and homemade granola.  I just love the flavor and texture combination of creamy, protein-filled yogurt, sweet, anti-oxidant and fiber-rich berries, and crunchy whole grain and omega-3 filled granola.

As you know, my Crock Pot fell victim to inertia earlier this year, and I got a new slow cooker (which I will tell you about some time--love it).  My old Crock Pot cooked extremely hot.  I liked using it, because it meant I didn't need a whole lot of hands-on time to get supper on the table, but I also had to be careful not to let it overcook our food.  And if I let the cooker go for even the minimum time specified in slow cooker recipes, the food would be overcooked.  It was frustrating.

The way I understand it, sometime in the '90s, food safety experts were concerned that food cooked in slow cookers was not getting hot enough fast enough, which allowed bacteria to multiply in the food, making it unsafe to consume.  So around that time, slow cooker manufacturers started making their appliances cook hotter.  Now, they've come back around again and the newer models heat up quickly, but modulate their heat better.

This means that I no longer have to worry about overcooked food in my new slow cooker.  I am seriously thrilled about this.

This also means that my original Creamy Homemade Greek Yogurt recipe doesn't work so well, as written.  So here it is again, revised for any slow cooker, whether yours cooks hot or slow.

What are your favorite ways to use yogurt?

Creamy Homemade Greek Yogurt
(for any slow cooker)

Heat the milk: 
This step denatures the milk proteins, which helps the yogurt gel

Place 8 cups of milk in a slow cooker, cover, and cook until the temperature reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  My slow cooker has a temperature probe, so it's super easy to know when it's hot enough.  In my old crock pot, it was around 2.5 hours on low.  In my new slow cooker, it takes about 2 hours on high.

Cool the milk: 

This step takes the milk down to a good temperature for the yogurt-making bacteria to thrive
Turn off the slow cooker and allow the milk to cool to around 110 degrees.  There are several ways to do this.  You can leave everything in place.  If you have a removable crock, you can take it out.  You can put your crock in an ice bath, like my brother does.  Removing the lid will speed the cooling process.   
The last time I made yogurt, I removed the lid from the crock and the crock from the heating unit and left the unit on warm so I could keep using the temperature probe to monitor the temperature of the milk.  

Add the bacteria: 
Scoop out a cup or two of the warmish milk, and whisk in 1/2 c. of active culture yogurt (buy a cup the first time, then save some of your homemade yogurt to use for subsequent batches).  Add the milk and yogurt mixture to the milk in the slow cooker.

Incubate: 
This is where the magic happens
Put the crock in a warm place for the bacteria to do their thing for about 8-12 hours.  I put my crock back into its heating unit (remember, it was still warm because I left it on while the milk was cooling), then wrapped the whole thing in a couple of bath towels.

{Optional} Strain the yogurt:
If you want Greek style yogurt, strain.  If not, just stir the whey (separated liquid) back into the yogurt.
Line a strainer or colander with a couple of layers of cheesecloth, a dish towel, or even paper towels--just make sure your paper towels are not "quilted" or you'll end up with little bits of paper in your yogurt.  Ask me how I know this.   
Dump the yogurt into the lined strainer and let it sit for an hour or two, until it reaches your desired consistency.

Enjoy your yogurt:
That's why we did this, right?
This recipe makes 2 quarts of regular yogurt or about 1 quart of Greek style yogurt, depending on how long you strain.  Your yogurt will stay good in the fridge for 7-10 days.  Don't forget to save some for your next batch--if you need a little more time between batches than 7-10 days, you can freeze it. 
Besides just eating it plain or with your favorite mix-ins, yogurt makes a great substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream in recipes.


Monday, June 1, 2015

The last gasp

Y'all, I'm making chocolate ice cream right now.

Because some space opened up in the freezer.  So I immediately had to fill it.  I really do have a problem.

And also, a couple of weeks ago I made chocolate frozen yogurt.  And then I remembered that I don't really like frozen yogurt, (although it was yummy, as far as froyo goes).  Whoops!  Silly me.  So of course, now I have to make chocolate ice cream.  Next, I'll be making this.  Because y'all know how I feel about peanut butter and chocolate in close proximity to each other.  Peanut butter and chocolate in the form of cold, creamy ice cream?  Heaven.

I don't have an ice cream maker, so in the past I've shied away from making ice cream, but it really is easy to make without one.  Just follow your recipe up until the step where you put it into the ice cream maker.  Instead, put it in the freezer.  Pull it out every now and then and give it a good stir to discourage the formation of large ice crystals.  When it reaches the consistency of soft serve ice cream, transfer it to a storage container.  Done.  Takes a little longer, but tastes just as good.

So yeah. one step forward, two steps back on this not-having-room-for-any-more-food thing.

It's the last week of school, and I am limping toward the finish line.  And/or being pulled along at break-neck speed.  It's the last gasp, and I really can't think beyond Friday right now.  But you know, since I know all one of you depends on my weekly menu plans to help feed your family, here's what I've got for ya.

Supper:

  • Fend for yourself
  • Chicken bundles (from the freezer)
  • Rice burgler (ground beef mixed with brown rice and mixed veggies)
  • Spaghetti/zucchini noodles with meat sauce
  • Pizza


Snacks/Other:



P.S. I am definitely not posting a menu plan for next week, and I doubt I'll get to it much this summer.  If all one of you who depends on my weekly menu plans gets desperate, feel free to check out all of my past menu plan posts--should be enough inspiration to last ya.


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