Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Menu plan for the week of December 7 (and cookie plan!)

 I have a turkey carcass in my freezer, as one does.  I saved it to make turkey stock, because I used the last of our turkey stock about a month ago.  But I'm not feeling the turkey stock making vibe these days.  To be honest, I'm not feeling any kind of vibe these days, including, as you could probably tell from the lack thereof, menu planning vibes.  November and December are hard for me.  

So, the turkey carcass sits in the freezer, and I feel guilty about the general lack of interest in doing anything.  Which, in turn, leads to even less interest in anything at all.  Bah.

But...as you may have noticed, I am doing something now, that is, sharing my menu plan.  So I guess that's something.  I've been through this particular ebb enough times to know that the flow will begin again soon(ish).  

Still no vibes, though.

Here goes:

No "other" this week, because that menu plan up there was hard enough.  Practically heroic.  But I will share the Christmas cookies and other treats for which we have ingredients in the house.  I mean, the potential is there.  We'll see.
  • Sugar cookies--I'm thinking about decorating these using royal icing, which I am sane enough to realize is delusional.  But not sane enough to realize that it's ok to not decorate these (as yet nonexistent) cookies.
  • Snickerdoodles--Still not a Christmas cookie, in my opinion.  This here cookie is an anytime cookie.
  • Oreo truffles
  • Marshmallow star cookies--Hubby thought these had pretzels in them.  He had me almost convinced, too.  But they do not.  Which makes me feel defeated.  Which is not rational.  
  • Oreo snowmen & Nutter butter reindeer--these are season-neutral enough that I feel good about the very real possibility that these will be pushed into January.  Well, not good.  Certainly not good.  But ok.  Ok-ish.  Ok-ish should totally be a word.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Cricut brag post

It's been a while since I've done a Cricut brag post.  The last one was in May.  And even though May was a long time ago, both in actual time and in perceived time, I was still surprised at how many projects I've completed since then.  It feels like I've been doing a whole lot of nothing during these past 5 months, but apparently, that's not quite true.

Here they are, in reverse chronological order (not including a couple of Christmas items, which I'll include in a special Christmas Cricut brag post.  Maybe.  If I get to it).

One of my friends saw my box, which sits on our fireplace with flowers in it, and asked if I'd make her one.  So I did.

We've had a lost sock basket in our laundry room for ages.  About a month ago, I decided the lost sock basket needed a pun (it was an actual basket before I realized it needed a pun.  Now it's a bin).

I made some masks and personalized them.  I was intending to make an AZD mask for Hubby, but he did not cooperate.  So AKD got a Husky mask instead.

And the Wisconsin mask was too small for its intended owner, so off to the thrift store it went.

Did I tell you about AKD's summer job situation?  Yeah.  It was pretty crazy.  Eventually, the school district opened the pool for swim lessons and AKD ended up there for the last 4 weeks of summer.  The staff gave this shirt to their boss.  That's a coronavirus inside the cross.

This was a commissioned sign for a hairdresser.  Last I heard, it was supposed to be a Christmas gift.  I wonder if the giver has been/will be able to wait that long.

My brother in law said this one time.  So I made him a sign.  I thought it was clever.  No comment from him.  I'm working on one for myself, but I'm having trouble deciding if I want it to be horizontal or vertical. 

Did you know that all of my parents' and my husband's parents' grandchildren are boys?  Yes, it's true.  Know what else is true?  Boys are wildlings.  So, of course, when I saw this sign, I had to make three: one for me and one for each of my sisters in law.

This is my biggest sign to date--a commission for a friend to give as a gift.  Through some combination of luck an magic, I managed to get the decal on straight.  I also made smaller versions of this sign for two friends.

Another commission.  This was a fun one.

This sign is for a guest bedroom.  I love the sentiment.

I made this one for my friend's RV, to which she and her wife loving refer as the "Bird Mobile."  My friend had this picture made into a garden flag to hang in their campsites, which I thought was an amazing idea.

Another commission.  A loving gift from mother to son.

As you can see, I made three of these.  The red one was specifically requested.  The others I made for a friend who wasn't sure which color combination she preferred.  After my friend picked her favorite, I sold the other one.  

Two of them went to people who actually have broken doorbells.

AKD requested and designed this shirt, which also has a pocket graphic.  I love that AKD makes it easy for me by creating his designs and emailing them to me in a form that is easily usable in the Cricut software.  I have seventeen pictures of the back of this shirt, but not a single one of the front.  

 And that's all for now.  Hopefully that Christmas Cricut brag post will be coming soon-ish.  As always, let me know if you need me to make something for you.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Menu plan for the week of October 26

 Hi friends.  It's Sunday afternoon as I'm typing this, and I am tired.  So I think I'm gonna take a nap.  Because I can.  (I mean, hopefully I can.  There are varying degrees of can happening here).  Happy eating this week!



Wednesday, October 21, 2020

I made dirt (again)

 OK, so I didn't actually make the dirt, but I did create conditions that were favorable for entropy to do its work.  And entropy made me some beautiful dirt.

Earlier this summer, Hubby and the boys built a new compost bin for me.  I stopped adding to the bin on the right about a month ago, in anticipation of being able to harvest some compost for the garden this fall.  At the same time, I started a new pile on the left.  The pile is mostly chicken bedding and droppings along with our kitchen scraps.  This time of year, I'm adding fallen leaves as well.

To harvest the compost, I throw a couple of shovels full from the pile into the compost screen.  The screen filters out the largest chunks and bits that are not yet decomposed, which I dump back into the new pile.  Upon giving the screen a good shake, the compost falls into the wheelbarrow.  Speaking of my wheelbarrow, isn't it lovely?  AKD found it on the side of the road this summer.  For free.  And it's pink!  It was meant to be.

Look at that beautiful dirt!  I am just so tickled that time can take literal garbage, and turn it into something useful and nurturing.  It's so easy.  I don't even worry about ratios of brown and green components or moisture or temperature.  I do wish I had an easier way to turn the pile than shoveling it, but because I don't have an easier way to turn the pile, I don't worry about that, either.  I just pile it up and let it go.  

I mean, you can see the inspirational life lesson in this, right?  Please say yes, because I don't have the energy right now to spell it out for you.  OK.  Twist my arm.  Here's the abbreviated version: pile up your metaphorical garbage and let it go.  Something beautiful will result.

This garbage-turned-dirt will nurture my family next summer by providing nutrients to the plants we will grow and eat.  This is recycling at its best, and it is so very satisfying.

I'm always a little sad when I pull the plants out of the garden at the end of the season. There's so much hope and potential in a garden, and pulling out the remains of the plants feels sad.  But this year, it was a little easier, because I knew that after the plants were gone I would be adding some of that beautiful compost.  And I know that next year will be beautiful because I let this year's garbage go.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Menu plan for the week of October 19

 Guess what happened!  I made this quiche.  And when I baked it at the specified temperature for the specified time, it was actually done.  That (almost) never happens (I mean, I can't say it never happens anymore, because it did happen).  For some reason eggs and pork take way longer in our oven than recipes indicate.  

I've learned to live with the uncertainty--knowing that it will take longer, but not how much longer.  Now?  I can't even be sure it'll take longer anymore.  How can you plan for that?

Reminds me of another thing I/we are all uncertain about right now.

One thing that I can be certain of is that my family will want to eat things.

Here's what's on the menu this week.

  • Rolls
  • Cookies--I've been wanting oatmeal chocolate chip, but since I like them much better than anyone else in the fam, it's dangerous for me to make them.  So it'll probably end up being snickerdoodles or sugar cookies
  • Banana muffins

Monday, September 28, 2020

Menu Plan for the week of September 28

Hi friends.  I'm back.  Did you miss me?  Eh.  You didn't even notice, did you?  That's all right.   

I made apple pie filling over the weekend.  If you were paying attention earlier in the year, you'd know that making and canning apple pie filling was on my list of potential 20 for 2020 goals.  So that's 21, now.  Or maybe I'm one up for next year? I don't know if I have the emotional energy to complete goals next year.

Anyway, back to the food.  We're going to eat some.  No links this week, because it's Monday night and I'm tired (but leave a comment if you'd like any recipe links.  I'm sure I'll have more energy tomorrow).  Here's the list:

  • Pizza, salad
  • Sunday night stew with mashed potatoes
  • Leftovers/fend for yourself/waffles
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce, broccoli, garlic toast
  • Hamburgers, buns, chips, carrots, jello
  • Grilled pork chops, mashed potatoes, grilled green veggie
  • Hot dogs or brats, buns, chips, carrots

  • Garlic salt (we're out, it's still #shelftember, and it's literally just salt + garlic powder, so...)
  • Sugar cookies
  • Bagels

Monday, September 14, 2020

Menu plan for the week of September 14

 Hello again, friends.  AKD came "home" for a quick visit this weekend, bringing along 3 buddies.  It was so good to see them.  While preparing for their visit, for which I was given about 12 hours notice, I realized that I love feeding people.  I mean, it's not all that surprising, is it?  I love to cook (don't love to clean up), and I think about food almost all the time, but it's not like I can eat all that food.  I miss the days when I could make brownies and send them in to work with Sawblock.  I miss making coffee cake and scones for my Bible study friends.  I miss bringing treats to the elementary school teacher's lounge (I mean, maybe they'd still take homemade treats?  I don't know).

In true #shelftember fashion, I put together meals from things we had on hand.  But it was a challenge.  I don't actually keep a lot of food on hand.  I don't have go-to quick meals that I always have the ingredients for in the house--not ones for eight people, anyway.  I plan meals (as you are well aware, if you've been here for any length of time), and I buy ingredients for those meals, based on the number of people who will be eating each meal.  And then I use the ingredients for the meals.  Which means I don't have a lot of extra food around at any given time.

How do people do that?  How do they always have a snack or hors d'ouevres or meal or drinks or dessert ready for guests?  I would not be a very good 50s housewife, that's for darn sure.

It was a gloomy day, so I went with Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup minus the celery (and now we're out of homemade turkey stock), Taco Bean Soup (and now we're out of beans), and homemade rolls for supper.  Soup is pretty easy, and feeds a crowd, so I think it was a good choice.  But I would really like to have a list of meal ideas for when/if this sudden guest situation happens again.  What's your go-to meal for guests?  

And now, without further ado, here is my carefully planned menu, for which I will purchase just enough groceries for the four of us who are currently living here (the list is probably $25 minimal this week):


Friday, September 11, 2020

Garden update

 Hello again, friends.  It's (past) time for another (perhaps the last of the year) garden update.

True to form, the garden descended into beautiful chaos by the end of August.  It's still pretty chaotic, but I pulled out most of the tomato plants, leaving some calming blank space.

I pulled each of the tomato plants out as soon as they didn't have any green tomatoes on them, and now I have just two roma tomato plants left.  They're both looking pretty straggly, but I decided leave them in to give those poor green tomatoes a chance.

There's one blushing tomato between the two plants, and about 15 green ones.  I did top these plants to give them a better chance at vine ripening those existing green tomatoes.  

It's been a successful tomato year.  I canned two batches of salsa, and I have enough tomatoes, between the freezer, the tomato-ripening-bag-on-the-counter, and the green ones still on the vine, to make about 6-7 pints of sauce (depending, of course, on how many of those green ones ripen).  So exciting.

This is one of our biggest Sakata's sweet melons.  We've got  12-15 of them in various sizes across three plants.  I am crossing my fingers that at least one of them ripens before our first frost.

After I pulled out the rest of the sugar snap peas, the melon plants really took off.  I think next year I'm going to do an entire bed of just melons.

Here's the lone watermelon that's currently on the plant (there were two others that succumbed to slugs earlier in the season).  There are also a couple of female flowers, but there's pretty much no chance that any of those will ripen before frost.  This little guy probably won't make it, either.  But he's so beautiful, and he gives me hope that next year, if I give an entire bed over to melons, I'll be able to harvest at least one.

Here's what the corn is looking like these days.  What's that?  Looks like beans and zucchini, with a small tomato plant in the background?  Yeah.  That's because something took my corn out.  It's OK because the corn only grew to about 4 feet tall before tasseling, so we weren't going to get any edible corn anyway, but kind of a bummer because now the asparagus beans have nothing to climb up.  They're just sprawling over the ground, and since the mature beans look a lot like the stems, I just kind of gave up on harvesting them.  I'm thinking that in this bed next year I'll have sugar snap peas, plus anything random that I decide on a whim to grow.

I think the zucchini is done.  I pulled one of the plants out, but have left the other three because they all have female flowers on them.  I don't think anything will come of them, but I might as well let them try.  It's not like it costs me anything.

Speaking of zucchini, you may remember that a few weeks ago I had a zucchini issue.  Well, issue resolved.  I made three pints of pineapple zucchini (the texture and taste is just like crushed pineapple, and we do have a couple of recipes that call for crushed pineapple), two half pints of sweet zucchini relish (I don't like sweet relish, but I know at least two people who do), and two pints of zucchini dill pickles (yes, I finally found a recipe that did not call for sugar).  It was a little challenging keeping track of the three different recipes all at the same time so that I could put them all in the canner together, but I figured it out.

I am loving the zinnias again this year.  I planted all of my seeds in the spring, so I decided to save seeds from these for next year.  I also have a couple of marigolds in various spots around the property.  This one was buried under tomato plants until quite recently.

Let's see.  In other garden news, I've got 15 tiny radish plants growing.  Radishes are supposed to take about 4 weeks, but since it's cooler and the days are getting shorter, these will likely take longer.  They can take a light frost, and they're in a container, so I can bring them in if we're going to get a hard frost, so it's likely we'll have a few radishes to eat soon(ish).

The grape and cherry tomatoes are pretty much done, I think, but again, I'm leaving them in place just in case any stragglers want to ripen.  I harvested some basil the other day, but I think that's pretty much done growing, too.

The little green strawberry worms are back.  Ugh.  I'm 90% sure I'm going to just take out that bed in the spring, and either not grow strawberries anymore, or grow them in one of the other beds. We weren't getting a good harvest and those little green worms were so annoying to deal with.

And I think that's it.  How did your garden do this year?

Monday, September 7, 2020

Menu plan for the week of September 7

 Hello, friends.  Yes, after a month long hiatus, I'm back with a new menu plan.

What's that?  You didn't notice I was gone?  Oh, well.  It wasn't the first time and it probably won't be the last...

Have y'all heard of #shelftember?  It's this thing invented (? invented doesn't seem like quite the right word, but I'm not really thinking of a more appropriate word, so...invented) by Jordan Page from shelfcooking.com and funcheaporfree.com.  

Jordan explains all about #shelftember here, but in a nutshell, you're supposed to cook mostly from the food you already have on hand, spending only $25 a week on fresh or fill-in items.  Jordan has 10 people in her family (granted, two of them are infants and one is a toddler, and the oldest kid is 10 or 11, and she keeps way more food on hand than I do, but still.  Whoa.  $25 per week).

This might sound familiar (minus the $25 grocery budget part) if you've been around a while.  Every now and then I get the itch to use up random stuff from my fridge, freezer, and pantry.  And I usually tell you about it.  And I sometimes ask for suggestions (did I ever use up those candy canes?  I can't remember if I used them or finally threw them away.  Or maybe they're still in the cupboard?  I'm kind of reluctant to look).  So I thought, eh, why not.  

This week, most of these meals will use something that we've had on hand for a while, and I have a minimal grocery list.  Not $25 minimal, but less than usual.

By the way, if you click that #shelftember link to read about #shelftember, you can scroll down to the bottom to enter to win a chest freezer.  So next #shelftember, you'll have more food on hand to choose from.  

On to this week's menu.

  • There is one other thing I'm planning to make, but it seems silly to add the "other" category for just one thing, doesn't it?  
  • I know I'm going to make other other things, but I don't know what they are right now, and I don't have the brain power to think them up.  
  • So.  
  • Now that this is a more substantial "other"...
  • Mexican quinoa with grilled chicken

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Chicken update

 I'm thinking we need a chicken update.  

Um, yeah.  My last chicken update was May 8, when our newest batch of chicks was just one week old.  Now, they are 18 weeks old.

I think the main reason that I haven't published more chicken updates this time around is because of this girl.  Guacamole's crossbeak has gotten much worse, and I spend a significant amount of emotional energy worrying about how I'm going to be able to care for her long term.  At this point, she is able to eat mash, which is chicken feed soaked in water, and she seems to be getting enough hydration from her mash.  

There are a couple of issues with this situation.  First, the big girls looooove mash, and if they have access to it, they will eat it.  All of it.  And second, pretty soon it's going to be cold here, and mash is going to freeze within a matter of minutes.  I have potential solutions in mind for both of these issues, but the truth is, I don't know if they're going to work, or if Guac is going to continue to be able to eat on her own. The third issue, for which I don't have a potential solution, is that Guac wears her food.  That's not going to be a good situation in the winter (frozen food caked in her feathers seems like a recipe for disaster), and we're not going to be able to continue giving her baths in the winter to clean her up. 

Guacamole's crossbeak is just about as bad as it can get at this point*, with the bottom beak pointing about 100° to her right.  She's such a sweet little girl, and she follows me around--probably because I usually have the food.  Guac doesn't realize she's any different from her sisters, and she attempts to do all the chicken things.  

Here's Buttercup.  She's such a pretty chicken, and she loves to roost on me and on my chair--Buttercup is the next generation of lap chicken.  She's kind of a follower, always concerned with where Charlotte and Guacamole are.  I feel like that's a good quality, because if I am carrying Charlotte, Buttercup will follow me.

And this is Charlotte.  She's smaller than Buttercup, but closer to laying, as her bigger and redder comb and wattles attest.  Maybe in a couple more weeks, we'll have white eggs in our egg basket.  Charlotte looks so much like a little dinosaur, and in fact, there have been a few times when the three chicks have been running in formation that they've reminded me of velociraptors running together, a la Jurassic World.  Charlotte is a flyer.  She likes to fly up into the branches of our pine trees, and once ended up about 20 feet off the ground.  Luckily, she came down without my intervention, because, while we do have a ladder that reaches that high, no way could I have maneuvered it into place by myself to get her down.

Indigo hasn't been feeling well, but she's still kicking.  I'm not sure what's wrong, but she's moving slower these days, and she hasn't laid an egg in several months.  She's kind of a loner--has been ever since we lost Hazel.

Koko is one of three chickens who are laying right now.  She's a superstar.  I love her temperament and her iridescent feathers.  I think I will always have a Black Australorp in my flock.

Rocky appears to be going through a partial molt.  She's lost her tail feathers, and some feathers on her neck.  In spite of that, she may have laid an egg yesterday.  The egg was approximately the right shape and color, and it definitely didn't look like anyone else's egg, but if she did lay, it would be surprising, since it's been about a month since Rocky has laid an egg.

Isn't this a fun picture?  I love that it has 6 of the 8 chickens in it, all lined up on the path heading toward the chicken coop--we're only missing Indigo, who was already on the roost, and Guac, who had her face stuck in a bowl of food at the time.  Toasty Crunch is still the matriarch of the group, and at the top of the pecking order.  She's another star layer, one of the three who is laying right now.

Esther went through a molt earlier in the summer, which was sensible of her, because it was super hot at that time.  Her beautiful beard has not returned, but she is the third chicken who is laying right now.

The chick grow out pen worked out really well for us.  I was glad to be able to let the minis grow to be about the size of the big girls before we needed to integrate them, but we needed to move them*, so Tuesday night was their first night in the hen house.  I put the minis to bed in the grow out pen, as usual, while the big girls put themselves to bed in the hen house.  Then Bubby and I went out when it was fully dark, and with the assistance of a red light, moved the minis onto the roost in the hen house.

In the morning, I heard a loud squawk, followed by emphatic clucking.  When I made it out to the coop, the minis were stuck in a corner, and Toasty was clucking at them.  I got them unstuck and put them in their exclusion pen (a safe spot, where the opening is too small for any of the bigger chickens to get in.  Except the minis are about the same size as Esther, so...) with some food and water.

I only heard one other loud squawk during the day, and every time I went out to check, everyone seemed to be getting along fine.  The minis seemed to be dividing their time between the top of the exclusion pen and inside the hen house.  Last night, I hung out in the hen house as everyone was getting settled so that I could referee any squabbles, but everybody behaved.  And at the time this post was published, everybody was still sleeping, so I can't tell you how the second morning went (will go). But so far, so good.

I hate this part of chicken keeping.  I hate that chickens can be so mean to each other.  I just want the integration to be over, but in the meantime, I remain vigilant and ready to intervene if necessary. 

And that's all for now.  I hope you've enjoyed this chicken update.

*Maybe I shouldn't say that, considering how the universe loves to be spiteful, but I honestly don't see how it could get any more out of alignment than it already is.  I have heard that crossbeaks can continue to get worse until the chicken is 5-6 months of age, so we're almost there.

**The minis are almost full size, and the grow out pen is only 12 square feet, so it was getting crowded in there.  In addition, almost always when I opened the top (which I had to do several times a day so that I could stir more water into Guacamole's food as it dried out), one or more of the girls would jump out.  Not a huge issue when Bubby was around to help, but with him starting school and being gone during the day, it was a lot to manage.  Those chicks are fast, and are pretty good at not letting themselves get cornered.  In any case, the minis needed to move and get comfortable with their new space before anyone started laying eggs, and like I said, Charlotte is getting close.  I'm not sure if we'll wait as long next time.  Truthfully, one major reason I waited so long this time is because of Guac and her food situation.  Anyway, integration needed to happen, and it did, and it seems to be ok.

Bonus (and blurry) pics of my curious minis:

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Radish update

 Remember when I told you that I was letting the radishes go to seed?  Or, more accurately, that the radishes were going to seed whether I gave them permission or not?  And then remember when I said I had tasted one of the seed pods, and I didn't think they were quite ready yet?

Yeah.  They went from not quite ready yet to too fibrous to (be pleasant to) eat, seemingly overnight. FYI, the ones I tasted too early tasted like not-quite-ripe sugar snap peas.  The ones I tasted too late did taste like radishes.  So that was pretty cool.  

So.  We're going to have radish seeds.  Yay!  Based on what I've been hearing, radishes might be the only thing we plant next year, because there is likely to be a seed shortage next summer.  But I'll worry about that later.  I'd be ok with planting only radishes*.

To harvest the seeds, what you're supposed to do is cut the pods from the plants, once the pods are dry, then gather them together and hang them in a paper bag.  The paper bag is just to catch the seeds as the pods pop open, so you could probably collect the seeds some other way.

I know the seeds are viable, because a couple of weeks ago, I popped one of the pods open to see what the seeds looked like (they looked like radish seeds, by the way), then, having no other convenient place to put them, I put them in the empty carrot planter (which is not so empty, evidently, because that's a carrot growing in the lower right corner), and they sprouted.  Yes!  They did!  I made seeds!

OK.  I didn't actually make seeds, I allowed the seeds to happen through neglect.  That's pretty much the same thing, right?

* I do have more seeds leftover from previous years, so even if we can't get any new seeds, we'd probably be able to plant more than radishes.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

 Hello, friends, and happy new year!  As all mamas of school-aged children know, the new year actually begins with the beginning of the new school year.  Even if you don't have kids in school or a job that coincides with the school year, September feels like a new start, doesn't it?  Summer is different, a departure, in some ways, from real life, and with summer coming to a close, it feels like it's time to get back to the business of regular, every day life.

About a week ago, someone asked me if I was "ready to send the kids back"* [to school].  I didn't answer, because it's complicated. 

Physically, yes.  All of the school supplies were labeled and in all of the backpacks, masks hanging on hooks, lunch money accounts funded.  All of the forms had been completed and (electronically) returned.  The kiddos had clean clothes that (mostly) fit (that Bubby--just keeps growing.  And doesn't seem to mind wearing too-short pants).  We had their class schedules and bus schedules.  They, and I, were, and are, ready.

Emotionally, not even close.  This school year.  I dunno, man.  It's all so strange, and it seems like it could go poof, and be gone, in an instant.  I don't do well with that kind of uncertainty.  I don't know what to think, or feel, or do.  It's so ephemeral, and I just can't let myself believe that the school year will continue to unfold according to plan.

In reality, this school year is no different than any other.  The future is always uncertain.  I send my kiddos off into the world, and I don't know how it's going to turn out.  I have hopes and assumptions, and sometimes those hopes and assumptions happen.  And sometimes what happens is better than I had imagined.  And sometimes it's worse than I had hoped.  The future is always uncertain, it's just that we're (I'm) more aware of it this year.

It has a been a long, hot summer.  Way longer than anticipated.  Hotter, too.  I welcome fall and its cooler weather.  I welcome the return to routine.  But no, I don't think I am ready to send my kids back.  I don't think I'll ever be truly ready for any of their forages into the unknown**.


My new year has started somewhat inauspiciously, with my alarm failing to go off.  Or, more accurately, my alarm went off silently.  Ten minutes later I got a notification that I had missed my alarm.  Dude.  If you had made more of an effort to sound the alarm, like, actually out loud, I wouldn't have missed it.  Good thing my kiddos are responsible.  And/or have alarms that actually make the effort to wake them.

On this cool, crisp morning, I did something I haven't in a long time: I put on a sweatshirt and yoga pants.  I slipped into my chicken boots, and I walked with my 7th and 12th graders in the gray early morning light to the end of our driveway.  The bus pulled up, and I sent my kiddos off to school, into the world, with an I love you and a prayer.

Happy new year.

* Let's give the questioner the benefit of the doubt, and believe that she didn't mean to imply that I wanted to get rid of by kids by sending them away.  

** Anyone else have that song in their head now?

Monday, August 31, 2020

An issue

 I have an issue.

A zucchini issue.

When I planted zucchini in the spring, I was planning to preserve the fruits by spiralization and freezing.  And I have done that.  But in my planning, I failed to take into account the fact that zucchini expands when spiralized.  Yeah, yeah.  I know.  Conservation of mass and all that.  Same mass; bigger volume.  Much bigger volume. Like half-a-zucchini-takes-up-the-entirety-of-my-biggest-baking-sheet bigger volume.

I feel like I already possess enough volume of frozen zucchini noodles.

We've entered the stage of the zucchini harvest where you go out to the garden and suddenly, there are three full sized, ready to be harvested zucchini, where yesterday there were no zucchinis, not even babies.  I currently have five zucchinis sitting on my counter waiting for me to decide what to do with them, and I'm pretty sure there will be at least one in the garden when I make it out there.  Not because there was one close to ready yesterday, but because that's how zucchini works.

We don't eat a whole lot of zucchini fresh.  Occasionally, I will grill or saute zucchini as a side dish.  Very occasionally.  I used to make a lot of zucchini muffins, but the kiddos aren't as fond of those as other kinds of muffins, so these days, I don't make zucchini muffins very often.  I have at least one soup recipe that calls for zucchini.  If I ever make lasagna* again, I would use zucchini for the noodles in my portion.  I suppose I could make ratatouille or galette.  I'm sure that would go over well with the fam (that was sarcasm, fyi).

So there needs to be some kind of zucchini preservation happening if I don't want to waste food (let me give you a hint: I do not want to waste food.  Ever. I'm kind of jealous of my friends** who have pigs to turn extra produce into bacon).  My choices are freezing, drying, and canning***.  All of which are viable options that I would be able to do.  The issue is, will I actually use the zucchini after preserving it?  Or will I be wasting the food and wasting the time, energy, and supplies used in the preserving process?

By the way, every single one of the the zucchini pickle and zucchini relish recipes in the world**** have sugar in them.  What the?  I mean, y'all.  I know sugar tastes good, but it is toxic, and shouldn't have to be added to perfectly good vegetables in order to pickle them.

So, hey.  Let me know if 1. you want any zucchini, and 2. you have any ideas for preservation and future use.  Together.  In tandem.  Because preservation doesn't do any good without future use.

My fruit basket is looking decidedly green these days.  That's because the tomatoes are in the ripening bag instead of in the basket.  We could have a definite Christmas vibe going on if we wanted to.
In case you're worried about the small, avocado-shaped, wrinkly zucchinis with stickers, those are avocados.  Which I should also do something about soon.

P.S. Here are a bunch of zucchini recipes.  From my own blog.  Maybe I should listen to myself sometimes.

*It has been many years since I have made lasagna, partly because I have two kiddos who don't like cheese, partly because I have two (overlapping) kiddos who don't like tomato based sauces, and one grown-up (me) who prefers not to eat pasta.  If I wanted to satisfy everyone's preferences, I would literally need to make a separate portion for each person.  I think I'm gonna, though, because I'm kind of desperate.

**Not actual friends, in the sense that we actually know each other and interact and stuff.  YouTube "friends" who feed any and all overripe veggies and food scraps to their pigs, including, in one case, a problem rooster, raw and freshly dead, feathers and all.  Yes, I had to cover my eyes on that one.

***Also fermenting.  But I feel like it's even less likely that anyone would eat fermented zucchini.

****Maybe a slight exaggeration.  But I seriously have not come across a zucchini canning recipe that doesn't have sugar or a sugar substitute in it.  

Friday, August 28, 2020

Zesty Salsa: a Recipe

 Hi again, everyone.

You didn't think I'd leave you hanging, did you?  Here's my salsa recipe!  It's modified from Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  


So use at your own risk.

I hardly ever put the cilantro in.  It's such a small amount, it hardly seems like it would make an impact.  But I happen to have some cilantro right now, so I put it in this time.

Zesty Salsa

(click here to print this recipe)
Makes 8-9 pints
  • 10 c. chopped, seeded (I stopped seeding the tomatoes years ago, but feel free to take them out if they bother you, peeled, cored tomatoes (about 6 pounds)--measure after chopping)
  • 5 c. chopped and seeded bell peppers (about 2 pounds--any color you want)
  • 5 c. chopped onions (about 1.5 lbs--I chop these in the food processor, and it ends up being less than 5 cups)
  • 2.5 c. chopped jalapeno peppers (about 1 pound.  I also chop these in the food processor.  The more seeds and membranes you leave in, the hotter the salsa will be.  I remove the seeds and membranes from about half of my peppers.  The salsa's spiciness also depends on how spicy your peppers are, so don't blame me if your salsa ends up too or not enough spicy)
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T cilantro, minced
  • 3 t salt
  • 1.25 c apple cider vinegar or white vinegar (or a combination)
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  1. Combine all ingredients except tomato paste in a large saucepot.  
  2. Bring mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  
  3. Add tomato paste and stir.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the salsa reduces to your desired consistency.
To can (please note: these are not thorough canning instructions.  These are canning instructions for people who already know how to water bath can):

Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace.  Adjust lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Well, that didn't go as planned.

I ended up not making salsa yesterday.  

I mean, the whole point of cooking day was to make the salsa, and it didn't happen.  

OK, so salsa wasn't the whole point, but it was the main point, and the impetus behind, cooking day.  If I hadn't planned to make salsa, I probably would not have planned to make all of the other stuff, either.

The reason I didn't make the salsa yesterday is because those tomatoes took so.darn.long to thaw.  In fact, I had them out on the counter all day yesterday, and in the fridge overnight, and they were still slightly frozen this morning.  Friends.  It is hot up in here.  I do not understand how those tomatoes managed to still be frozen after more than 24 hours out of the freezer.  Who knew tomatoes had such a low heat transfer coefficient?  Not me.

Anyway, I didn't make the salsa yesterday, but I did make almost everything else on the master cooking day list (still need to make the sausage gravy, which I didn't make yesterday because I didn't want to have to wash the pan by hand and there was no room in the dishwasher for it.  Wait.  Did that make sense?  Does it need to?), and I did the salsa this morning.

The core, score, freeze, thaw method of peeling tomatoes worked like a charm, although I will say that if you like chunky salsa, maybe don't freeze your tomatoes at any point in the process.  After thawing (sort of) and peeling, I felt like these particular tomatoes were more suited to sauce than salsa.  In fact, they were so mushy that I didn't even cut some of the smaller ones--I just tossed them in the pot.  But of course I used the mushy tomatoes anyway (I was committed at that point), and I will do it again, because it was so much easier than blanching and shocking, and who cares if the salsa is a little saucier than usual?  Not me.  And not anyone else around here, if they know what's good for them.

It actually worked out really nicely to have done all of the other chopping the day before.  All I had to do this morning was peel and dice (or mash) the tomatoes and mix them in to all of the other goodness.  It was less overwhelming and felt a lot more manageable.  So I might just repeat this same salsa process in the future.

Who doesn't love the sound of canning lids pinging?  Tomato-ripening-bag in the background.

Which might be much sooner than anticipated.

This morning, after I had filled the canner with 9 pints of salsa, I texted the oldest boy to ask for an estimate of his salsa consumption this year.  See, he's the one in our household who eats the most salsa.  And he doesn't even live here most of the year.  I was wondering if I should do another half batch or if this would be enough.  The boy responded with an estimate that was much higher than I anticipated (maybe he included his housemates in his estimate?  But I feel like they're not really voracious salsa eaters).  It was an estimate that made me wonder if I should have doubled the recipe right away (I have a big enough pot and enough tomatoes) and processed it in quarts.  There's a nationwide (maybe worldwide) shortage of canning lids, you know.  Perhaps the asking of that question was poorly timed.  Whoops.  

I was ...not really hoping, more like dreaming... that I might actually have enough home grown tomatoes this year to make sauce.  I have never, ever even come close to such a thing.  In fact, last year I had to buy tomatoes just to have enough to make salsa.  For reference, the Ball Blue Book says it takes about 3 1/3 pounds of tomatoes to make a pint of sauce.  And 3 1/3 pounds of roma tomatoes is about 13-17 tomatoes.  For a pint!  And I thought I might have enough roma tomatoes to actually make sauce and for it to be enough sauce to make it worthwhile to can.  It's been a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, for sure.

There goes that dream.  More salsa, coming right(ish) up!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Cooking day

Today's the day!  It's cooking day!

I remember talking with a friend several years ago about the many jobs we do as mamas.  You know, like maid, chef, chauffeur, accountant, counselor, logistics, transportation, purchasing, nanny, assistant, communication coordinator, nurse.  My friend asked me which of the jobs is my favorite.  I think she actually asked which one I would do if I could only do one, but same dif.  I don't remember which one she said, but I said chef.

Even at the time, it surprised me a little bit that I said I would want to cook.  I mean, I agonize over those meal plans every week.  It's excruciating.  And cleaning up is a drag (I do remember prefacing my chef preference by saying, "as long as I don't have to clean up..." I guess I was planning to have staff for that). The logistics of cooking sometimes seem overwhelming--planning what to cook and making sure all of the ingredients are available (I guess I was planning to have staff for that, too)--but it's true: I love the process of taking separate ingredients, some most of which don't taste good by themselves, and combining them into something delicious and satisfying.  It's magical.  And that's probably why baking seemed as necessary as breathing a couple of months ago.

So yes.  It's cooking day.  You know already that there will be salsa today.  The tomatoes are thawing as we speak I type.  The first order of business was to get the machines working.

But then I realized that if I started the bread machine right then, the dough within would need attention when I wasn't around to give it.

Yeah.  Cooking day, interrupted by a darn orthodontist appointment.  Where's the chauffeur/transportation coordinator/health assistant when I need her?  Also, in the absence of all those, where's the logistics person to tell me that today is not the ideal day for a cooking day?

So I got one of the machines working and the other loaded, and then I decided to tell you about it.  Blogging used to be my very favorite method of procrastination (but that's a story for another day).

On the agenda today: buns, bacon ranch chicken, salsa, biscuits and gravy, and snickerdoodles.  If I'm not completely done by then, I might do muffins, too.

I know you're probably not having a cooking day today.  But whatever you're up to, I hope it's as satisfying as my day will be.

See ya later.

Monday, August 24, 2020

It's Salsa Time

 Hello, friends.

As you (may or may not) know, I'm growing roma tomatoes in the garden this year.  I wanted to grow paste (as opposed to slicing) tomatoes because they're supposedly better for canning, both because they are more meaty/less juicy, and because they tend to produce one big crop all at once rather than continuing to produce all summer long.  Which is what you want for canning.  I was hoping for Amish paste tomatoes, because, well, I like the name, and, um, really no other reason, but the only paste tomato that was available as starts at my garden center was roma.

Well, that one big crop thing isn't happening in the way that it seems to me one-big-crop should.  I feel like it should happen that I am able to pick all of the tomatoes in one day, and then be done.  Instead, they're dribbling in.  Faster than a slicing tomato would, yes, but not one-big-crop fast.  

A week or so ago, a storm decided to get the harvest started.  I did not agree that some of the tomatoes the storm harvested were ripe, but the storm didn't consult me (how rude).  The ones that weren't as ripe went into a paper bag, along with an apple (and then later, a pear, which became known as the tomato pear, but that's a story for another day), on my counter, and I cored and scored the rest and stuck them in the freezer for later.  I am assured by the internet at large that this is an easy and perfectly legitimate way to both store tomatoes until I'm ready to use them, and peel the tomatoes.  No blanching for me this year (I hope).

Anyway, the romas are ripening and now I've accumulated enough ripe tomatoes, through a combination of storm-harvest-and-ripen-in-a-paper-bag and actual harvesting-ripe-tomatoes-and-storing-them-in-the-freezer to make a batch of salsa.  Yay!  This is a very good thing, because we opened our second to last jar of salsa a couple of weeks ago.

In other roma tomato news, the blight has begun.  I think this is probably late blight. Because it's late in the season.  But I haven't taken the time to look it up.  Because honestly, who cares at this point?  It's here, it's affecting my tomatoes, and it's a race between blight and me to see who gets the best harvest.  Luckily for me, I have a secret weapon--that paper bag sitting on the counter with an apple (and a pear) in it.  I would say that I think I'm going to win this one, but I don't want to seem overconfident.

In other tomato news, the volunteer grape tomato plants--I've found five now--and the sun sweet cherry tomato sucker that I stuck in the ground earlier this year have set fruit are big enough that they require staking to avoid sprawling all over the ground like a teenager sprawling on the couch after a hard night of ... sleeping.  The volunteer plants are looking so much better than the on-purpose plants that I'm wondering how I can get all volunteer plants next year.  Maybe if I offer them a stipend?  The volunteers are extending the cherry tomato season, which is always a good thing.

So yeah.  Salsa is happening soon.  Stay tuned, my friends.

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