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Archive for July, 2012

Produce, Produce, Produce

July 31st, 2012 at 09:14 pm

I'm getting a little overwhelmed by trying to keep up with the fruit production right now. I picked a gallon of raspberries and 2 gallons of blueberries today. Actually, I probably picked at least another gallon of blueberries, but that went to the greedy chickens. I swear for every two handfuls I put in the bag I was throwing one to the chickens. With 12 chickens eating them it was a lot. I don't mind sharing, I just wish they could pick, too!

They are getting very friendly, coming right up to me and demanding berries. Some will even tap me on the foot with their beaks if they think it has been too long since I've dropped some berries for them, cheeky little birdies. I really should take out my camera when I pick because they get so close and I could get some great shots.

Anyway, I estimate I picked about $50 worth of berries today, not counting what I fed to the chickens. Everything is in the freezer. It's too hot in the house to process right now and picking is done either before eleven in the morning or after seven in the evening, when it is cool enough to do the work.

My biggest brandywine tomato is moving from orange to red now. It looks so good. I harvested a quart of green beans today, but I think that patch of beans is just about spent. Maybe another handful left that needs to size up a bit. I need to poke a few more seeds into the ground. There might be just enough time left to get a late harvest.

I have two kohlrabi the size of tennis balls and 2 about the size of golf balls. I think the two bigger ones should be ready in about a week. I am really looking forward to them as there is nothing like kohlrabi fresh from the garden. Some of the smaller ones are starting to swell now.

I'm not sure what's going to happen with the cauliflower. It got hot at the wrong time. I am going to tie the leaves over the small heads tomorrow, at least on the ones that the slugs have not eaten the leaves too far down on, to see if they will blanch. Cauliflower is not one of my favored veggies. I will eat it, but I only ever make it because DH and the kids like it, so if it doesn't survive, eh... The broccoli is coming along nicely though.

I harvested the last of the old lettuce today and pulled the plants. The chickens were happy to get those, too, the greedy guts.

The garden has paid for itself about three times over now, plus paid for all the canning supplies and sugar I have bought this summer. I am happy about that. I will be even happier when I start picking tomatoes.

I am thinking about getting some sweet corn to put up at the end of August. We did plant some, but just enough for fresh eating. I just need to decide between freezing or canning if I buy some. I would freeze if I had the freezer by then, but I don't know if I will. So it may be canning by default. It would be nice to buy local corn when it is 10/$10. I guess it will depend on how well my tomatoes do, because if they don't do well, I will spend my grocery money on organic tomatoes to put up.

I can at least buy good canned corn from TJ's at a decent price all year around, but I can't do that for tomatoes. And also, with the corn being killed in the middle of the nation from drought, there may be a higher demand for Washington state corn and I might not be able to get it so cheap, either. Well, a year without much corn won't kill me, if it comes to that. Now a year without potatoes, that would be hard. But those are growing in our garden just fine. I may not even have to buy potatoes at all from September to May if they are as productive as they look like they are going to be.

I don't think we are anywhere near being able to provide all of our produce needs for the year this year, but we'll have grown a good enough hunk of it to take a major bite out our grocery budget, which will make it easier to save up for the protein in bulk from sustainable sources. I would love to get my grocery budget down to $400 a month if averaged over the year, even if it means buying a large portion of it up front.

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I redeemed two $5 amazon gift cards from swagbucks today and will do the same tomorrow. I wish I had done it yesterday, so I could have gotten 4 this month. Oh, well. Live and learn.

For All You Swaggers Out There

July 31st, 2012 at 11:57 am

I have saved up enough Swagbucks to cash in for 4 $5 gift cards to Amazon. Can someone explain the process of redeeming them a little before I go do it? I've heard something about daily limits on how much you can redeem. Do they send you the gift cards in the mail or do they give you a gift card link in email?

And then I've heard about gift card numbers getting stolen so you need to put them in your amazon account right away so that doesn't happen. But I've never had to do that, so how does that work exactly? Is there a specific place you go in your account? I don't want to use them yet, I want to save them up. Also, how long do these gift cards last once you have them in your amazon account? I'd like to save them up for at least a year.

Best Laid Plans--No Eating Out Challenge Day 4

July 30th, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I ended up having to swap today's dinner with tomorrow's. The bread was starting to mold. How DH and DS did not notice this at breakfast or lunch I do not know, but I noticed it, so out it went to the compost bin. There were only six slices left, the perfect amount for dinner sandwiches for me and the kids (DH is on his way back to Alaska), but sadly it had to go. I think maybe the heat is making it not last as long as it did when it was cooler.

So we had spaghetti with plain tomato sauce and hamburger (I didn't feel like taking the time to do meatballs or my special sauce) and fresh berries from the yard. No garlic toast because of no good bread. I didn't even make a vegetable, but no one was complaining. We like simple spaghetti even if we like fancy spaghetti more. Part of my brain was saying just go out to eat. I wish that would go away, but it does crop up a lot when I am tired, which I am really tired today. Fortunately I had my challenge to fall back on and made it through day four of no eating out just fine.

I will make a loaf of bread in the morning and we will have our sandwiches for dinner tomorrow. I ended up buying a yellow bell pepper today when I picked up a gallon of milk, instead of a green one. They had no organic green ones and the red ones were not very uniformly ripe. The yellow ones were perfect. So I will have yellow bell pepper slices on my sandwich tomorrow and later this week on my pizza.

The nice thing about planning out my meals for the week is that I can switch them around in a pinch when something goes wrong, like moldy bread.

I think I may can blueberry jelly tomorrow. I have to pick the bushes tomorrow morning before the birds (not our chickens, but wild birds) get them. They are loaded and they are too much of a temptation to the sparrows and chickadees if left too long.

Today I picked some blackberries. I am working towards filling up another gallon size baggy in the freezer. So far there is just today's pint. There are still a lot of red and green berries on the canes so I know they will get there eventually, but it may be a week or two before I have enough to make more blackberry jam. By then I am hoping that the Himaylayan blackberries that grow wild behind my chiropractor's office (and don't get sprayed) will be ripe and ready to pick.

Other than picking a few berries it was a pretty lazy day. I just didn't have the gumption to do anything much. I hope I'm not coming down with a cold. My throat was a tinge scratchy this morning and yesterday morning, but got better as the day progressed. It could just be allergies. It's been about 12 weeks since I've had a bad cold and I'd just as soon keep up that record since I had such a horrific fall and winter with illness after illness.

I did spend a lot of time going over the absentee voter's ballot. We have a lot of folks this time I knew nothing about so I researched them to figure out who to vote for. I also put together a documentation packet to send higher up the school's food chain. We are still getting the runaround by the lower level administration in regards to my son's concussion that another student gave him second to last day of school, so we went higher up. Don't know if it'll do us any good at all, but I'd like to at least know we are being heard.

Financially, I added $2.65 to the coin jar. Not really a money day otherwise.

House Stuff

July 30th, 2012 at 02:48 am

I hate nights where I have insomnia. Or at least "not tired enough to fall asleep until it's really late-ia." We spent a good portion of today out at the house determining what we wanted to keep and what was going to be hauled to the dump of the stuff in the yard and shed. We locked up what we are going to keep and everything left is going to be junked. It's probably 4 pick up loads worth of stuff that will never be usable, like the 2 extremely heavy bags of solid concrete that got rained on. They used to be powder. Or the patio table umbrella that somehow managed to grow an entire layer of something green and fuzzy.

We ended up basically keeping very little. I'm not sure how we ever accumulated so much useless stuff. Having lived in 1000 square feet for the last two and a half years has given me a lot of irritation at our formerly cluttered life. And I am not looking forward to going through the stuff in storage, though that will be our next step, because the smaller the unit we can get into the less we will have to pay.

The guy who wants our car is going to put in $1000 worth of labor in fixing up the old house for it. We will buy the primer, but they have a bunch of leftover paint from other jobs that their boss just gives away after a house is done and that will be free. They already have all the equipment. They will tape and mud and fix some small holes (nail holes, when we changed out the thermostat and put it at the other end of the house) and paint the inside and when that is done we will have the carpets cleaned. The one guy says he has seen carpets in worse shape than ours come back great with professional cleaning so we're hoping we won't have to replace the rugs.

They are also going to take all of the junk we sorted out today to the dump and get the yard ready for sale. He's got a guy who wants to tear down the carport, which is falling down, for free, so he can have the wood. He'll also take all of the greenhouse demolition wood and the broken fencing away.

They want to paint the outside of the house, too, again with free paint from other jobs and they will spray it as they have that equipment.

The other guy is getting estimates on the broken window pane repair and on how much it will cost to replace the four doors and one door frame that need replacing. And also where we can get replacement sliding doors for the closets and how much.

And they want to do all the yard work needed to fix it up. They know we can't pay a lot because of my son's medical bills right now, but it sounds like as long as we pay for the supplies they can't provide, any additional labor costs can wait until the house is sold. I know the head guy is doing this because he really likes my mother, but I don't want to get too far beholden on a house we may not make much from at all.

I really would like to get moving on this and get it on the market, but I want to pay as we go, too, which may not be possible at a quick rate. But I think just getting the house painted is a step in the right direction.

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As for steps in a different direction, two of the houses that we have had our eyes on for a while both had substantial price drops. The one house, which is pretty much perfect except for the location (which is not a bad location, it's in our chosen school district, it just is not where exactly I want to be) dropped it's price today to $200,000. Which would be a really nice mortgage to have for a house with it's square footage and yard. The only thing I don't like is that I have noticed the neighbors are creeping their stuff.

They are parking one of their brokendown cars partially on that property and their junk is also creeping over. The house has been empty for a while and I don't really want to have neighbors who start taking over bits and pieces when you aren't looking. Plus there was so much clutter in their garage and the yard seemed trashed. All the other yards in the area seem fine, but I don't want bad neighbors. I've had them once and I will not knowingly buy a home next to them.

The other one which is a block outside our desired neighborhood and is only outside it because it is across from the freeway and the noise is loud, was $330,000 when it was taken off the market after a year several months ago, and it came back on the market at $300,000. It is a perfect house for us in a better area. Handicapped accessible, handicapped bathroom shower, a large yard for gardening, a big garage/shop. You can't really hear the freeway from the back yard and it's pretty quiet from inside the house, but it is very loud in the front. All of the bedrooms are in the back though and we've lived with road noise when we lived in the country next to a highway. But I still think it's going to drop more.

If our house had sold and we had the downpayment in hand we'd make an offer. It would be closer to $225,000 to start with, going up to $250,000. I can't say with the road noise it is ever going to sell for more than $275,000. Considering how long they've been trying to unload it, it's just been vastly overpriced. It's also on a dead end, not easy to give directions to, and behind a crematorium/funeral home so it can't sell like the same house picked up and moved to another location and they have to accept that. Once they do I think the price will fall again. When it does, I hope we can take advantage of it.

I told DH today though that I really want to have at least $30,000 in the emergency fund before we start saving for a downpayment. I don't want to go without it.

He said there might be a possibility of him working an extra week. They had fired two people in documentation (they were alternates) and have not rehired replacements even though it's been months and he's sort of been doing both his regular job and the job of the person who is gone. And the second job is falling behind because he has his hands full with his own job. So he may see an extra week of work. Which financially would be great. It would give us enough to pay off the last $1500 of DS's medical bills and still leave us with some money for the house renovations. But I remember how hard 3 weeks on were on everyone including him. And that was 3 on/3 off, not 3 on/1 off. Yes, the money might be nice, but we would muddle by without it to the new year when everything will get easy again. At least I hope so.

Meal Planning for the Week

July 29th, 2012 at 11:43 pm

I am going to try to do a few easier meals this week, I think. It's supposed to be hot all week and long and involved food is not something I really want to get into. I will use the crock pot at least twice. Oh, speaking of using the crock pot, I made up the applesauce and DH pronounced it very delicious. this is what I did:

5 apples, peeled, cored and segmented into eighths (I think they were pink lady or cameo, which are the only type I buy other than honeycrisp usually and they weren't honeycrisp)
1 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Put all ingredients in the crockpot on high for 6 hours. It was supposed to be 3 to 4 but I forgot about it. No harm done though. It made 2 12 ounce jars and one 8 ounce jar (or 3 half pints total, if I had been able to find more 8 ounce jars). Process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes to make it shelf stable. It is nice to have those apples out of my fridge produce drawer.

Anyway, planned dinners for the week:

Monday--
Club sandwiches
Homemade french fries from home grown potatoes
Cantaloupe
Cole slaw

Tuesday--
Spaghetti with homemade sauce
Meatballs
Homemade garlic toast
Salad

Wednesday--
Meatball sandwiches made with leftover meatballs, leftover sauce, and leftover garlic toast
Leftover cole slaw
Berries

Thursday--
Pork chops
Fried potatoes
Green beans
Berries

Friday--
Homemade pizza (made with leftover spaghetti sauce) and whatever toppings we have on hand, probably green peppers, onions, Canadian bacon and uncured pepperoni
Cantaloupe

Saturday--
Toasted ham and cheese sandwiches
Homemade chicken noodle soup (from a chicken roasted for lunches and then crock potted to make stock and then soup)
Cole slaw
Homemade french fries

Sunday--
Beef chuck roast made in the crockpot with carrots and potatoes
Green beans
Drop biscuits with homemade jam

No Eating Out Challenge Day 3

July 29th, 2012 at 03:49 pm

At least it's day 3 for me. It's probably day 2 for everyone else since I started the day I announced it. Anyway, I've done good so far, but today I was really tempted. I didn't give in to it, but I had a really strong urge to get half a Subway foot long club sandwich on their 9-grain honey oat bread. So I think I'm going to build a sandwich night into my meal plan this week.

One of the things I discovered about sub sandwiches is that I like them with cucumbers and green peppers on them. I discovered this at an open house that was serving Subway sandwiches this way, and ever since it's like I can't get enough of them. So I think tomorrow will be sandwich night. The only thing I'll need to buy will be a green pepper.

I have been wanting some simpler meals on these hot days, and I have plenty of excellent homemade bread so I think it will be a good idea for early in the week. Probably for tomorrow. Since tomorrow is airport day that does tend to make things easier. Otherwise DH ends up eating at the airport and the kids and I don't end up eating until 8 at night and that is no fun.

I didn't put a pot roast in again for Sunday dinner. I don't know what is up with me forgetting, but oh, well. It can sit in the freezer a while longer. I am making pizza for dinner instead. I've got the dough started in the bread machine. We have leftover homemade sausage, uncured pepperoni, and onions.

I have some leftover homemade spaghetti sauce that is enough to top the pizza and plenty of cheese. I will be using the cheese that is getting a little hard first. It will melt just fine but is a little weird for eating straight. I was going to use leftover meatballs from the spaghetti earlier in the week, but my new meatball recipe was so well-received the last of the meatballs were devoured yesterday. I will definitely be making those again.

I am thinking about making up a batch of applesauce in the crock pot. There are five apples that have been sitting in my fridge for a while and I am tired of them taking up space. I can do a small batch and water bath can them in half-pint jars. I won't even have to get out the big canner to do that, just do them in a large pot. Then they will not be taking up room in my fridge.

Preserving More Food

July 28th, 2012 at 03:49 pm

This morning was nice and cool and the perfect morning for making jam without heating the house up terribly. I used my new food mill on the apricots and the blackberries, but the blueberries just went into the blender.

The results of my 3 hours of labor.



I ended up with six half pints of apricot jam, a value of $48 (organic jam has gone up, I priced it last week), minus the cost of sugar and apricots, so a net value of $40.

I did 4 pints of blackberry jam for a value of $56. The blackberries were free, so the cost of the sugar was $2. So a net value of $54.

Last I did 8 half pints of blueberry jelly. Again the berries were free from the yard so it was the cost of the sugar, $2. So $64 minus $2, a net value of $62.

Altogether I spent $12 on ingredients and profited $158 by putting up this jam and jelly today. I will likely do at least one more batch of blackberry jam, one more batch of raspberry jam, and one more batch of blueberry jelly this summer and any other berries will be frozen. I think I'll have enough jam for the year. I may actually already have enough jam for the year, but some will be gifts.

And another look at my expanded stash. We have used up one jar of strawberry and are in the process of eating a second and also on the first jar of apricot jam, but there are two more rows added as well.



I can't wait until I can fill a shelf full of tomato products. Another month and a half for that.

Homemade Salsa

July 27th, 2012 at 09:52 pm

Today I made homemade salsa. It turned out really well. I did the usual thing that I do when I want to make something that I either haven't made in a really long time or have never made before. I looked at a bunch of recipes on the internet and then made up my own. I don't think I could follow a cooking recipe line for line if you paid me. Baking, yes. That's a whole other animal, but not cooking.

Anyway, I started with the juice from one lime and threw it in the blender.



And diced half a yellow onion and 2 really enormous cloves of garlic (probably 4 smaller cloves would do from a non-mutant head).



I chopped up about a cup's worth of fresh cilantro.



And then diced 2 jalapeno peppers.



I took about 1/8 tsp of the seeds from the peppers and discarded the rest. You can use them all or more than I did, but I was trying to make a salsa my kids would eat.

I took 2 cans of organic diced tomatoes including the juice and added it to everything else in the blender.



I didn't want to pay the prices for off season organic tomatoes at the store, but I imagine about 2 pounds of tomatoes would substitute for the 2 cans.

I added in 1 tsp of freshly ground sea salt and 1 tsp of freshly ground pepper and blended the whole mess on low, level 4, for about 20 seconds because I wanted to keep some chunkiness to it. Now is the time to taste it and adjust your salt, pepper, and jalapeno seeds to taste.

And the tasty end result:



This made a little over a quart of salsa. Next time I will cut the recipe in half and just make around a pint, but I will definitely make it again. It's worth it in freshness, flavor, and I saved about $2 over the cost of buying the same amount of jarred salsa. That cost will drop once my own tomatoes are ripe.