Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Turn your Pumpkins into Turkeys


If you have any pumpkins left over from Halloween, now's a good time to transition them into the next holiday.

I got this great Thanksgiving Pumpkin Turkey Making Kit last year to use with my pumpkin. My kids hated it, but I love it! (And it furthers my career as a parent destined to embarrass two teenagers).

Gobble gobble!

*Warning - this post contains a link to an affiliate program that might make me money, wherein I use said $ for giveaways and suchlike.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dwarf Almond for Urban Spaces

This spring I purchased and planted a few new dwarf fruit and nut trees to replace some other trees and plants that just weren't producing. I finally decided to pull out some pear trees that always suffered from trellis rust and never produced any fruit, in spite of all the pruning and perseverating over.

In place of one of the pear trees, I planted a dwarf almond - something I've wanted to have for years, but just couldn't find something suitable for an urban space. Well, the Nikita's Pride almond tree, developed in the Ukraine, does great in both small spaces as well as in cold environments. It will grow about 10 - 12 feet tall (although I'll keep it smaller) and is hardy to -20 degrees F. They bloom at the same time as peach trees, which helps avoid damage by last frosts.

These dwarf almonds are partially self-fertile. Another reason I bought this tree was in the hopes of making more of my own almond milk, which I started making earlier this year. Buying bulk organic almonds can be pretty cost prohibitive for making milk.

The Nikita's Pride is prized for their profuse, pinkish-white, fragrant flowers. I haven't had it long enough to flower and produce anything yet, but it's grown quite a huge amount just over the summer. When I planted it, it was about 2 feet tall. It's about 6 feet tall now. Hopefully we'll see some flowers on it next year. I have to say, I'm pretty excited about this tree.

Do you have any nut trees growing on your property?


Friday, October 21, 2016

Gluten-free Pumpkin Gingersnap Cookies

Gluten-free pumpkin gingersnap cookies
I had some leftover pumpkin sitting in the fridge when I stumbled upon a recipe for Pumpkin Gingersnap Cookies over at Two Peas & Their Pod. I really wanted to try it out, but I also really want to make them in a gluten-free version.

So, after doing some research and cross-referencing the King Arthur website (for just their gingersnap recipe) as well as gluten-free gingersnap recipes versus pumpkin gingersnap recipes, I settled on just a few changes to the original recipe.

Basically, I switched out the granulated sugar for brown sugar, replaced the all-purpose flour with America's Test Kitchen gluten-free flour mix and added 1/2 teaspoon xantham gum. The only other thing I changed was I added cinnamon to the sugar for rolling. And, voila! They turned out perfect. Soft and chewy.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Buy Nothing October - Saving Tactics

We've been having a little personal Buy Nothing October to cut back our spending and, hopefully, save up a little for the holidays this year.

Now, to be clear, it's not like we aren't buying anything - my youngest child's birthday is this month, so I budgeted a certain amount for those gifts, but I've been trying to cut out extraneous purchases.

This last year has been chock full of expenses. We had a lot of car maintenance expenses on our 14-year-old vehicle, replaced quite a few single pane windows in our basement, got a new roof and refinanced our home. We paid for all of these out of our checking/savings and didn't finance anything. And that was on purpose.

The plan was to save the $500 a month we are saving from refinancing to recoup the closing costs and other expenses, but we just haven't really achieved that. Other monthly expenses have crept up and we haven't really been strict about "binge" buys.

So, I've been really trying to crack down on that this month and hope to continue through next month. My husband really likes going out to coffee so we haven't stopped doing that, just reduced what we buy when we do so (only coffee, no treats). And, we otherwise aren't eating out. At all. Which is pretty normal for us anyway but we've been ordering out a lot over the summer.

One of the techniques that we've employed is to create Christmas lists for ourselves on Amazon and, whenever we feel like we want to buy something, we put the item on our respective Christmas lists to be ignored for a couple months. Most likely the urge will pass and if, after two months, we are still dying for those purchases, they'll get budgeted into our Christmas gifts. So far it's working.

Another tactic I'm using is recording all our expenses and watching our credit card closely to keep us on track. That way, if we start falling back into old habits, it's easier to correct sooner rather than later.

What are your favorite ways to avoid overspending money?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Keeping the Heat Low

Our super awesome new thermostat
with some laughable temperatures!
Well, it's that time of year again when the central heat kicks on and we decide how low we want to go. I wasn't planning on hosting a Freeze Yer Buns 2016-2017 unless I hear otherwise from y'all. If you want a more formal event to keep you on track, let me know! (I can't believe the last one was in 2011.)

The first thing we're doing differently this year is that we've kicked our space heater to the curb (aka storage). My older child was overusing the space heater rather than just putting on more clothes. The final straw was hooking it up to our Kill A Watt electricity usage meter. After a few calculations it looked like we were spending something like $600 a year running the damn thing! I know, you don't need to tell me.

Since my husband is off chemo for the next 3 - 6 months (more on that later), he's able to regulate his body temperature a bit better. So, the household temperatures don't need to be as warm. My youngest child walks around half dressed and is impervious to the cold, so that's not a concern there. I tend to be cold, but I have an arsenal of wool and down to employ.

Anyway, the heat first kicked on October 2nd. We chatted a bit about how we wanted to program our newish, more accurate thermostat this year and settled on the following. Our biggest limitation is that there's always someone home. Between working from home and homeschooling, we can't exactly set the thermostat low during the day like I'd want to:

Daytime:
9:00 am - 9:00 pm - set to 67 degrees

Nighttime:
9:00 pm - 9:00 am - set to 60 degrees

Now, before you start arguing that these seem like sultry temperatures, let me remind you that our central heating isn't exactly efficiently dispersed and the thermostat resides in the warmest part of the house. So, if it's 60 degrees in the living room, it might very well be 52 degrees in the bedroom. Or lower. I honestly prefer sleeping in a really cold room so it works out fine for me. And everyone has super cozy, snug blankets so it's not an issue.

What about you? How low are you going this year?

*Warning - this post contains a link to an affiliate program that might make me money, wherein I use said $ for giveaways and suchlike.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Gluten-free Zucchini Muffins

My zucchini plants produced an obscene amount of zucchini this year. Fortunately, my youngest child has been on a zucchini muffin bender the whole time, so figuring out what to do with it (besides grilling it with olive oil and salt) hasn't been an issue.

And, when the muffins weren't being consumed or made fast enough, I was shredding the zucchini into 12 ounce servings and freezing it for use after the garden stopped producing. I didn't do any other preparation besides shredding and freezing so I wasn't sure if it would work as well as using it fresh.

Well, lucky for us, we have about seven 12-oz bags of frozen zucchini to alternate with gluten-free pumpkin muffins (another favorite). And, so far, using the frozen, shredded zucchini has turned out the same as using it fresh.

This recipe, adapted from King Arthur Flour, results in a muffin that you can't tell is even gluten-free. Why gluten-free you ask? Well, my kiddo has IBS and has less of a problem with non-wheat foods. And the fiber from the zucchini helps as well. This recipe calls for the King Arthur Gluten-Free Multipurpose Flour, but we prefer to use the America's Test Kitchen blend.

Also, if you are looking for uncoated, Teflon-free muffin pans, I highly recommend the Chicago Metallic Commercial II Uncoated 12-cup Muffin Pan. If you have questions about this type of steel, Kitchen Boy does a great job of explaining it. We have two of these muffin pans and use them frequently.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F; lightly grease a 12 cup muffin pan (or use compostable, unbleached muffin liners).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, honey, oil, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
  3. Add the flour, salt, xanthan gum, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon, mixing until well combined.
  4. Stir in the zucchini and let the batter rest for 15 minutes, then stir to redistribute.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan.
  6. Bake the muffins for 30 minutes, rotating halfway, until the muffins test done (a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean).
  7. Remove the muffins from the oven, and let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes before turning them out of the pan onto a rack.

*Warning - this post contains a link to an affiliate program that might make me money, wherein I use said $ for giveaways and suchlike.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Collard Greens Gratin. With Bacon. And Cornbread.

Collard greens gratin
We're getting to that time of year where the collard greens I over-planted decide they want to produce more than we can possibly and reasonably eat (apparently four plants is too much for two people and the kids aren't interested). So, what is one to do? Turn those giant leaves into a meal, that's what.

I occasionally pick up this magazine called Southern Cast Iron (where I got this recipe from) which, I hate to admit, I really love. It pairs cast iron with a lot of garden-centric meals that tend to be not so much on the lighter end of the spectrum. But, then again, pork fat is good for you, right?!

Anyway, this recipe is a great combination of lots of collard greens, onions, garlic, milk, cheese and a little bacon. Oh, and some cornbread. Which really seals the deal for me. You cook it on the stove top in a cast iron skillet, but it gets baked in the oven for a really amazing, golden, crunchy finish. It's a nice alternative to the standard sauteed greens and it's a meal in itself.

If you're looking for an inexpensive cast iron skillet, we love our 12 inch Lodge pre-seasoned skillet that we use not only for making things like this, but for making cornbread as well.

Ingredients
  1. 11⁄2 pounds chopped collard greens, stems removed
  2. 6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
  3. 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  4. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  5. 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  6. 2 cups whole milk
  7. 1 cup shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese, divided
  8. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  9. 1⁄2 teaspoon ground mustard
  10. 1⁄8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  11. 1⁄2 cup crumbled cornbread
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add collard greens; cook for 4 minutes. Immediately drain, and rinse with cold water. Drain again; squeeze dry.
  3. In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon; let drain on paper towels, reserving drippings in skillet.
  4. Add onion and garlic to skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir in flour; cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in milk; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add 3⁄4 cup cheese, salt, mustard, and red pepper. Add collard greens, stirring until combined. Top with bacon, cornbread, and remaining 1⁄4 cup cheese.
  5. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

What's your favorite way to cook greens?

*Warning - this post contains a link to an affiliate program that might make me money, wherein I use said $ for giveaways and suchlike.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Post-Windstorm Harvest and Prepping for the Storm

Well, the windstorm predicted for the Pacific Northwest didn't turn out to be nearly as bad as originally forecast for our area, thank goodness. At the very least, it was a good reminder on how to be prepared for a long-term power outage.

Our big problem is that everything in our house runs on electricity. So, if the power goes out, we are relegated to cooking outside and we don't exactly have a great heating source (except the fireplace). We generally don't have much wood on-hand because we don't use the fireplace very often and I honestly can't remember the last time we lost power. It's been at least 20 years.

Fortunately, it's not very cold this time of year and we're sort of used to Freezing our Buns Off. Additionally, we have a lot of down blankets and other warm and woolies to tide us over. I can always strap Paco to the inside of my wool sweater. He might not like it for very long, but at least I'll be warm.

I was mostly concerned of losing electricity because we have 50+ pounds of salmon in our chest freezer that my brother brought back from a recent fishing trip up in Alaska. We were trying to figure out how to keep that packed with ice. Again, since we don't generally lose power, even in the bad windstorms around here, I can't say a whole lot of planning went in to trying to curb that concern. Plus, salmon party!

Anyway, on to the trees... I was afraid some of my fruit trees weren't going to make it, but fortunately, they all survived unharmed. (I have a few new ones I'll post about shortly.)

I surveyed the backyard this morning and everything was in order. I also managed to harvest a few things:

  • some of the last of the blackberries
  • a few raspberries
  • the last of the green beans
  • a big bowl of green tomatoes
  • carrots
I'm hoping the tomatoes will ripen inside but, if not, I'll figure out something else to do with them.

The Swiss chard, spinach, green onions, collard greens and beets are still trucking along, but not enough of them to harvest at this point in time. The garlic and fava beans are starting to come up, which is always very exciting!


How's the weather in your neck of the woods?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Have Menstrual Cups Gone Mainstream?

It's been about 9 years since I first started talking about using menstrual cups as an environmentally friendly alternative to using tampons or disposable menstrual pads. I'm curious to get your input on the State of the Period when it comes to menstrual cups. Have they become more popular/acceptable?

So, just out of curiosity, tell me what you think...


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Raspberry Plants for Small Spaces

Some of our fall raspberries earlier this week, right before I stuffed them all in my mouth...


This year our thornless Raspberry Shortcake plants produced like crazy. They are producing a small fall crop as well. I was really tempted to plant a third plant earlier this year, but the two I have now were producing so much I didn't want to overdo it!

If you have a small yard, these are great raspberries plants to give a try. Not only are they not poky, but they are self-fertile, only grow 2 - 3 feet tall and are hardy down to USDA zone 5. They will work well in containers on a patio or even on an apartment deck. Just make sure they get enough water.

I know this sounds like a freaking sales spiel, but of all the random trees, plants, vines, etc. that I've attempted to grow (and cursed, killed or ripped out) over the years, this is one of the few ones I've been really pleased with.

Do you grow any berries in your garden? What's your favorite? Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, huckleberries, snozzberries...?

*Warning - this post contains a link to an affiliate program that might make me money, wherein I use said $ for giveaways and suchlike.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Top 8 Ways to Preserve the Fall Harvest

Every year we go through the same routine - what to do with all those pumpkins, apples, green tomatoes and corn!

So, to keep a handy reference all in one spot, here are my favorite 8 ways to use up the fall harvest!

1. Processing sugar pie pumpkins - How to roast, process and freeze all those lovely pumpkins that you either grew or are buying from the farmers market, farm stand or grocery store.

2. Corn preservation methods compared: I compare different corn preservation methods and let you know how they all turn out.

3. What to do with all those apples: From canning, drying, freezing to making drinks, they're covered in this post.

4. How to ripen green tomatoes: From storing them wrapped in newspaper in a box to putting them in a paper bag, what's your favorite method of ripening green tomatoes?

5. Saucy apples: My favorite apple sauce recipe.

6. Hard apple cider: A link to how to make hard apple cider.

7. Preserving food for the winter: This post has my favorite method for drying apples.

8. Grilled pumpkin with rosemary and sea salt: This recipe is up over on my mostly neglected food blog (and at Mother Earth News). It's one of my favorite things to do with pumpkin.

What's your favorite fall harvest recipe or activity?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fall Garden Roundup 2016

Our fall garden is plugging along quite nicely. If anything, I'm getting a little tired of growing food and am itching for the garden to go to bed for the year. I'm looking forward to a winter's rest and where I can ignore the weeding and maintenance for a while.

But, I still have a lot of vegetables coming our way. We're still getting a lot of green beans, lettuce, green onions, collards and the occasional tomato and cucumber. I've got a handful of raspberries and a lot of blackberries still on the plants.

I've just finished my last plantings of the year - I put in the garlic and fava beans last week. I am, however, debating throwing some shallots in as well but that will depend on whether I get around to it.

Here's everything that's currently growing/producing:

  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Basil
  • Swiss chard
  • Pac choi
  • Green onions
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Rattlesnake pole beans
  • French green beans
  • Collards
  • Parsley
  • Russian kale
  • Broccoli
  • Romaine
  • Red lettuce
  • Beets
  • Chives
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Fava beans
  • Garlic

I planted a few new fun fruit trees this year, but that will have to wait for another post!

Are you done gardening for the year or do you still have fruits and vegetables growing in your garden?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What's growing In the garden - May 2015

I have gotten a really late start in planting my food garden this year, but I'm finally making some progress after a few weeks of weeding and planning. I know it's always fun to see what other people have growing, so I thought I'd compile a full list for you.

So, to make a long story short, here's what I've got planted and growing so far in my Seattle urban backyard:

Fruit
Sweet cherries
Pie cherries
Columnar apples - Golden Sentinel and Scarlet Sentinel
Mini dwarf Honeycrisp apple
Pear - 2 varieties: I finally have my first pear this year (damn rust)
Blueberries
Raspberries
Blackberries - I pulled out one bush as I get waaaay too many berries every summer
Pineberries - kind of like white strawberries that taste like pineapples
Strawberries
Plums - Hollywood
Grapes - 3 varietals - not great for eating, but good for jelly!
Rhubarb
Arbequina olive
Lime (indoors)

Vegetables
Onions
Leeks
Garlic
Green onions
Green lettuce
Red lettuce
Green beans
Shelling peas
Collard greens
Sweet corn
Yellow summer squash
Cucumbers
Asparagus

Herbs
Rosemary
Oregano
Lavender
Thyme
Italian flatleaf parsley
Cilantro
Sage
Chives
Bay

Other
Chickens (2) - my old ladies are still producing about a half dozen eggs a week

To be planted / transplanted this weekend
Carrots
Pumpkins
Corn
Tomatoes
Basil
Peppers
Watermelon
Cantaloupe


Phew! I think that's it. I still have a 4' x 4' raised bed of space to do some more planting in a few weeks. How is your garden going so far this year? Anything producing yet or is it still too cold?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

RIP Sarah, 2/10 - 9/14

RIP, Sarah, you big, white fluffy butted chicken. May you forever peck at delicious cabbage worms in the big hen house in the sky.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Full time homeschooling middle school

Howdy! Sorry I've been MIA this last week. School started on Wednesday and, on Monday, I made the executive decision (with support from my husband) to full time homeschool my 7th grade son.

He was scheduled to do 2 classes at his middle school this year, but the times they wanted him to take classes messed up my work schedule too much. So, I figured adding 2 more subjects didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. But, it did leave me scrambling a bit to cover my work schedule with a sitter and add a few more things for him to work on.

As far as our decision to homeschool our son, we meet about 8 of the reasons shown in the graphic at the right. I'm still freaking out a little bit about this decision, but I know he could step back into the part-time schedule at school if it doesn't work out. However, at this point, I don't think he's going to want to.

I've spent a lot of time reading about different homeschooling techniques. Last year we basically did school at home. We followed the 6th grade curriculum for the most part. I think it was good for a transition, but ended up being relatively uninspiring and there was still a lot of struggle and resistance. I have become much more interested in the idea of unschooling, but have settled on something in between for now. More of an eclectic, student-driven homeschooling within the general guidelines of a 7th grade curriculum. In other words, I'm going to offer the material and let him spend as much time on something if he's interested and sweep quickly over things he's not interested. Plus a whole lot of other fun stuff that doesn't involve sitting at the kitchen table all day.

My son's big resistance is with math, which is surprising because he's naturally extremely adept at it. I don't know what happened in public school that made him hate it so much, but we are taking it slow. I'm using the Life of Fred math books and I've already determined that he's going to need a lot of review work. I, frankly, don't think he did any work in 6th grade math at school last year, so we have a bit of catch up to do. But, that said, I want it to be a positive experience. It's also a huge lesson for me to give up the fear and control of having to do "such and such work in x amount of time".

So far, the first couple of days have gone well. I think I've got things organized enough at this point that it will get easier as we go along. And, with more of a gradual focus on unschooling, it should get easier altogether. Most importantly, he seems to be much more relaxed and happy about school. And, for once, I don't have to worry about issues at school for the first time in 8 years, which is a huge relief.

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