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Archive for September, 2012

Tomato Days

September 30th, 2012 at 02:27 pm

Yesterday was tomato day, as in I spent a good amount of it blanching, peeling, cutting up, and blending 25 pounds of tomatoes that had been sitting on my kitchen table for over a week. I put them in the crockpots. It filled the 8 quart to the top and then the 4 quart 3/4 of the way full. I left them to cook down on low for 24 hours and then just combined the two crocks together. I did not notice a difference in consitancy between this batch, where I peeled the skins off, and the last two batches when I didn't. What I did notice was it didn't take as long to cook down, closer to 24 hours than 36.

I currently have the 8 quart one full to the top. I bumped it up to high to make sure that it would boil. In about an hour I will put it all into jars and can them. I should have at least 15 to 16 pints if it doesn't cook down too much more in the next hour. That should put me up to half a year's supply of homemade and canned tomato sauce. I don't know if there will be any at the farmer's market next Saturday, but if there is I'd like to do at least one more batch. I've got a few ripening on the vine and whatever is ripe I always throw in with my farmer's market buys.

Once they are in the canner I can clean out the crock and start my pears cooking down for pear sauce and can that tonight. I wonder if pears will cook down faster than apples since they are a softer fruit? I will need to check the crock sooner to be on the safe side, I suppose. I'm not sure I'll get any of the baking done that I wanted to do this week, except for the cloverleaf rolls, but that's okay. My ear is completely pain free now, but I'm still kind of slacking in the energy department.

I would really like to can pear chunks as well if I have the time to do it this fall. I don't much care for the consitancy of canned peaches, but canned pears I enjoy much better and it'd be nice to have some on hand for when the pear season ends in December. And it's easier to find organic pears for a reasonable price, anyway. I'll have to buy more lemon juice. Between the tomato sauce and the pear sauce I will wipe out what I have on hand. Pears don't have enough natural pectin to not put it in. Tomatoes probably do, but all the recommendations suggest its safer to raise the acid content of them with lemon juice if you are using a water bath canner, which I am.

My chicken noodle soup that I made tastes even better today after sitting in the fridge. The flavors have just melded even more beautifully. I knew that happened with chili and stew, but I'd never had it happen with soup, usually because it's gone so fast. It's nice not to have to make lunch right now when I'm so busy with preserving, just pour out some soup and heat it up.

One of these days I really need to make up stock in my giant stock pot instead of the crockpot so I will have enough to can it. It doesn't seem worthwhile to get out the pressure canner to can two jars of stock, or three jars of chicken/turkey and vegetable soup minus the noodles. But I really want to have some on hand that I can just add noodles to it later on as I use it, so I'll have to get with that in another couple of weeks. I want to do it while organic carrots and organic celery are still in season. Organic onions and garlic are always cheap.

We'll need to roast and eat some whole chickens between now and then so I have the carcasses to work with and maybe some turkey thighs as well for the meat for the soup since I have some in the freezer. I have two whole chickens in the freezer, so we'll definitely have one of them for dinner one night this week.

I will have to stop at the farm stand tomorrow and pick up a cabbage and a lettuce. That should be all the produce I buy this week for my weekly menu planning. The rest will be from food on hand in the fridge, the garden, and the freezer or pantry.

Feeling Much Better

September 28th, 2012 at 06:49 pm

No ear pain today and only a slightly sore throat when I swallow. That's a huge step in the direction of feeling better. Now if my nose will clear up I think I will start feeling like a human being again.

I switched things around in my menu planning and made the chicken noodle soup today, mostly because I hadn't baked the potatoes for baked potato soup and the other was easier. It turned out incredibly well. I made a couple of changes to my usual recipe, adding in some garlic powder and ground celery seed and it made it much more savory. I've finally got it to where I think it tastes better than my favorite restaurant bowl of soup, which makes me happy because I've been futzing around trying to do that for years. I think we'll skip the baked potato soup tomorrow and just have more of this. It is so delicious.

The tomatoes on the table are all ripe now so I will start the process to make them into sauce tomorrow, but not until after I make the pear sauce, which I should have done today, but didn't. I'll start it going early so that I can have the tomatoes in by 2 p.m., so they will done by 2 p.m. Sunday and canned in the afternoon. I'm going to blanch and peel this batch and see if that makes a difference in consistancy. It'll be nice to have my table back.

I've checked the 10 day forecast and only one day is scheduled to dip below 50 degrees at night, and that's just 49 so I think I'll be okay on my tomatoes still on the vine for a while yet. Days all look to be upper 60's. I was hoping for some nice days at 70 or above, but it looks like a no go. I can definitely feel fall in the air. Hopefully that won't change to winter any time soon.

The next time I go the the farm I am going to ask them if they have any soup bones for sale. I want to make a nice, rich beef broth as the base for beef stew. It's the next thing I want to master. Years ago Stagg used to make this fantastic beef stew, but then they ruined it by adding pearl onions and peas, and then they discontinued it altogether, at least in our area.

I put up with Dinty Moore for a while after that because they don't have chemicals in their stew, but then they changed it so that it had less beef and more carrots and potatoes, then they changed it again so that the consitancy of the beef was more mush than meat, and then they started shorting the carrots and putting in more and more potatoes all while the price steadily rose. Do they really think we don't notice these things? It's like when they keep the pizza box the same size and shrink the contents. Not that I buy frozen pizza anymore, but you get my point.

The last change put me off it altogether because I like my carrots to equal my potatoes in stew, so ever since I've tried to backwards engineer the original Stagg stew from memory, but so far no go. I think it may be in the base so that is what I'm working for. I did see beef marrow bones at the store but I'd really prefer to stick to the organic, grass fed, pasture-raised beef.

The one trick they cannot pull on us is that they can't make 1 pound of beef or 1 pound of carrots or 1 pound of potatoes be less than they appear to be. The price per pound is the price per pound. They can't sell you 10 ounces of ground beef in a 1 pound package like they try to do with those 14.5 ounce canned goods that used to be 16 ounces, though the cans are the same size. It's only the processed foods that they pull these tricks on. All the better reason to stay away from it, to my way of thinking.

Gift Card and Survey Money

September 27th, 2012 at 05:19 pm

I had enough points today to cash out at Swagbucks for another $5 gift card for Amazon. I'm waiting for one to show up any day now and then this one will show up in a week. Right now I've got $25 in gift cards in the account and have received a total of $35 from them. I wish I hadn't let DS do the ordering when he ordered his book because he accidentally wiped out that first $10 of gift cards I was saving, but there's no use crying over spilled milk. It's building up again and it looks like I might be doing about $25 a month worth of gift cards from them. If anyone is interested in doing Swagbucks who is not signed up, there is a referal link in my sidebar. I spend maybe 10 minutes a day on them, so $25 a month feels like a decent return for it. This is all earmarked towards my daughter's MacBook fund.

I should be able to cash out at American Consumer Opinion Panel soon. It should have been today, but it's still sitting there pending. That will be a $14 check when it's finally available. I like them a lot compared to other companies, even if they don't have a referral system. They have good surveys, but it is hit or miss sometimes on whether or not I qualify. I tend to go through a month or two where I qualify for everything and then it'll be a dry spell where I qualify for nothing. Oh, well. Every little bit helps. It's earmarked for the freezer fund.

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Homeschool went great today. It's the smoothest day yet and we were able to get everything accomplished in four hours. I know not every day will go like this, but it goes a long way towards making me think we're going to be just fine.

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I feel a lot better today. My ear still hurts but it is now a dull ache instead of raw, open fire. And my throat only hurts when I swallow and not all the time. I am still coughing, but that's better, too. Now if I could get a full, good night of sleep I think I will be well and truly on my way to getting over this thing.

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We got 12 chicken eggs and 3 duck eggs today. That means every single female bird laid an egg today. I'm not sure that has ever happened before. Pretty cool. We gave my in-laws 3 dozen eggs yesterday and I will take a couple dozen in when I go to see the woman who works on my leg and the receptionist who works at the office there.

I think I'm going to have to make a quiche and a frittata and another meatloaf this week. These all make great lunches and breakfasts, something easy to warm up without stopping to cook while doing homeschool or for DD to take to school.

As soon as I feel good enough I am going to do some serious baking and use up some of the duck eggs. I'd like to make a batch of soft pretzels and a batch of cinnamon rolls for the freezer as well as saving out a few of each to eat now. I'll also make a batch of cloverleaf rolls to eat instead of bread, since it uses eggs and my bread doesn't.

I might even make some egg noodles. And a couple batches of peanut butter cookies, since I have two cups of natural fresh peanut butter in the fridge. But that's definitely next week. Maybe some of it on Sunday. We'll see. I just want a stockpile of baked goods in the freezer for when I get sick again. I've managed bread and pizza dough this week and that's it. Makes me feel like I'm slacking, but I'm not going to push myself when I feel so icky. Not worth it.

I Guess It Sort of Counts as Saving Money

September 26th, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Well, I cancelled my dentist appointment for tomorrow. My ear still hurts too much and my throat as well, to sit through a cleaning and after having been on antibiotics for over a week with no progress, I'm sure this is a nasty virus. I didn't want to get them sick there, so I've saved or at least put off, the cost of a cleaning this month. I go three times a year due to some damage caused earlier in life and the third appointment is not covered. I've rescheduled to mid-October, which shifts the payment to a better month and hopefully that gives me enough time to get over this forsaken thing.

Oh, it is better than yesterday, though so hopefully that means I'm on the upswing. Yesterday was "oh my gosh, I think I'm going to die from this ear pain, will it never end," and today was "I think I'll live but I'm not going to enjoy it." LOL So a tiny bit of progress. At least I have my sense of humor back, right?

I have missed three weeks of seeing the woman who works on my leg due to her car accident, so that $90 a week has eased things a bit. She called me today and we've tentatively scheduled for Monday, but with the understanding that either one of us was likely to cancel depending on health or injury status. It was good to hear from her. She's become a dear friend over the last couple of years and we chat non-stop when we have a session.

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Homeschool has gone much, much better this week. We are getting through things better. Math and literature take more than the allotted time, but the other subjects go faster so it all evens out. Today we only put in a half an hour more than the required time and I can see that things are beginning to go more smoothly on DS's end as he gets into the swing of it. I am pretty sure neither one of us is going to go crazy now.

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The garden continues to chug along. Today I picked green beans, tomatoes, a kohlrabi, and some more prunes. The broccoli is getting bigger right on schedule and there are several tomatoes getting red and another kohlrabi that will be ready soon.

The pears on my table are now ripe so I will try to make and can the pear sauce tomorrow, though all I want to do is just bite into those lucsious things and eat them straight. Must resist. There will be more for that.

About half the tomatoes on the table are ripe, too. I hope the rest get there before I need to do something with the ones that already have because I don't want to make two small batches of sauce I want to make one big one.

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I am making chicken stock overnight in the crockpot. I've got 4 chicken carcasses and a bunch of vegetable peelings that I've been saving in the freezer as well as a fresh leek and some sad looking but still decent parsley and other herbs from the garden. In the morning there will be beautiful, delicious broth for mere pennies. I may end up doing chicken noodle soup tomorrow instead of pizza because of my throat. I have some diced, cooked chicken in the freezer I can throw in to make it pretty easy as well as some fresh veggies I can chop and let simmer all day tomorrow. If I have enough leftover stock I will can it, otherwise I will freeze it.

And I think that about covers it.

Househunting and Old House Update

September 25th, 2012 at 08:31 am

While looking at house listings last week, we ran across two rather surprising options. One is a 1900 farm house, 4 bd, 2.5 bath, 1827 square feet on almost half an acre. Although it is two stories, the master is on the main floor. It also has low porches so not a lot of stairs. And a great, big, wide farm kitchen with lots of light. It's $229,000. I think it's so low because it is near the freeway. The house has special insulation so that you can't hear freeway noise inside the house. Freeway noise outside the house doesn't really bother us because we lived off a highway for ten years and there are plenty of trees towards that side of the property to mute it.

Then there was a 1959 rambler, also on almost 1/2 an acre. It's not as many square feet, 1453, but has a bigger garage and several outbuildings. It is fully fenced. It has a great kitchen, but definitely looks like the era it comes from. It is in a more out of the way location, but not so far as too make anything difficult. The only thing is that there is a fair amount of traffic and the driveway is sharp. Fortunately it is also big enough to turn around in and come out face first instead of trying to back out. Because of the slope it sits on (part flat, part hill) it might be difficult to mow, but it has a ton of established fruit trees on the slope so the land is productive, and we could get a pro in to mow if it was too hard to maintain. It is $235,000. There is also a McMansion for sale next to it for $800,000. Way out of our price range, but it's a pretty view to look at.

We've done drive-bys and these are definitely on our list of ones to visit if they are still there in a couple of months or if they happen to have an open house.

It is nice to see that there are houses in the low end of our price range with actual land. I'd far rather have a mortgage of $200,000 than $350,000. For the most part that has meant looking at houses on 1/4 acre or less, but knowing there are older, less expensive houses with almost 1/2 an acre to be found is nice. And there is no rush. There will be plenty of time to really look once the house sells. If it sells.

Two other options we have looked at before are still available. One is in the perfect location and is really nice, if a tad bit on the small size. Still big garage and a shop for storage so I can work with a smaller house in those cases. It is really nice and has just dropped from $250,000 to $243,500. I would have to take down a couple of trees that aren't too big to make any sort of a garden and it is a smaller lot than I want, but again, perfect, perfect location. I'd be doing a lot of container gardening. But there'd be no chance of keeping chickens. Rabbits, yes, but not enough open space for chickens.

The other is the first house by the freeway, the one with the perfect gourmet kitchen and large back yard, garage and shop. This one we've been inside. Plenty of space and manicured flower beds I would turn into a vegetable garden. Again, freeway noise in the front yard, funeral home/crematorium, memorial park, and elementary school nearby, but you can't hear any of the noises from any of those things in the back yard or the house and I'd spend no time in the front yard as it's tiny. It's sitting at $300,000 now, was at $315,000 for a year. It's quite large, one floor, and handicapped accessible. I think we could get them to come down on price if we were serious about it since it has been on the market well over a year, coming up on 18 months. It's a little further from the perfect location house, but still pretty close, within walking distance to both my mother's house and Trader Joe's and the high school.

We are still a few weeks out from putting our house on the market. The outside painting of the house, front and back porches, and shed is complete. Two interior rooms have been painted and next weekend they hope to finish with that. They also need to put up the new gutters and drainpipes, replace the broken window pane and paint the play structure, as well as paint the new porch overhang on the shed roof and put new roofing on the shed roof since it is two different colors from a previous repair after a major windstorm a few years back. The house looks pretty nice now, though I don't like the exterior color much.

Originally I asked for a pale blue with gray trim, this is sort of a beigy-green with white-gray trim. But I did okay it. The painter gets to keep any leftover paint from previous jobs and he had a bunch of this from one, so we got the outside paint free and I am not looking a gift horse in the mouth. If I had to live in it, that would be another thing entirely and I would have paid to tint the paint a different shade.

Once all the painting is done we will have someone come in and give an estimate on carpet cleaning and whether or not it's worth it to bother or just put in new carpet. I think we can keep all the carpet in the bedrooms, but the carpet in the living room and great room will have to be replaced. We'll see. Then once the carpets are done it will be ready to be sold.

Everyone seems to be agreed on $110,000 as a starting price (except DH and I). We want to see what a realtor says. House is assessed for taxes at $91,000. I am thinking more along the lines of $90,000 as a starting place.. I know how long houses sit out there if they are overpriced. We paid $65,000 and honestly I'd be happy to just get $10,000 above that at this point. It would give us $40,000 for a downpayment, pay the realtor, and pay off the remaining mortgage, and give us a little extra in the bank for all those unexpected expenses that crop up when buying a new house.

The Harvest Continues and the Adventures of Georgie

September 24th, 2012 at 09:38 pm

The garden seems like it really ought to be slowing down. The days are in the high 60's to low 70's and the nights have been in the high 50's. Still, things continue to grow and some things are just coming into their own. We are eating as much from the garden as possible right now. I am buying no produce this week. It is nice to keep the grocery budget lower by making use of the bounty, but not have to skimp on what I feed my family.

I will need to get on a ladder to get the prunes off the higher branches this week. I've pretty much picked the lower branches clean. So far my plan to can has been thwarted by the fact that everything is getting devoured fresh. Ah, well. Maybe once I get those tall ones down.

Here is today's harvest:



The kohlrabi will be eaten at breakfast and lunch tomorrow. I'm pretty sure the prunes are probably gone, consumed to the kids. The green onions will be used tomorrow in a lunchtime low-carb meatloaf and the green beans will be in tomorrow's dinner.

Over half of my table is taken up with produce ripening. I will be making pear sauce in a few days with these:



And I hope that these will be done ripening by the weekend so they can go into the crockpots for sauce and then to be canned.



I am hoping to harvest this broccoli by the end of the week:



And in the patch on the far side of the house I see that the Romanesco is finally heading up. It'll probably take more than a week for these to start to be ready, but at least they finally are producing.



I've never eaten this type of broccoli before. It's an heirloom variety I guess and supposed to be very tasty. Let's hope so because I have quite a few of them planted.

I still have quite a few tomatoes coming on. I pulled the blossoms off several of the plants so they could focus on sizing up and ripening the remaining green tomatoes between now and cold weather. Anything that is a blossom now would have no chance to become anything before first frost so it makes no sense for the plant to split its energy.

This lovely pink rose is growing up through the center of the blackberry brambles. It is a gorgeous spot of color.



There were only five chicken eggs today and 1 duck egg. The days are getting shorter, which means they may not lay as much, but they may be hiding their eggs again, too, since most of them can get out now.

Georgie has managed to get herself up on the roof of the house several times now. She flies to the top of the tall gate and then from there flies to the roof. It is so funny to see her walking along up there. Of course by the time anyone can get a camera she is back down. No one else seems to be following her example, not even Curious, the hen that is Georgie's twin and was always the adventure leader up until now. But then they are both mischief makers or they wouldn't be named after an adventurous monkey, now would they?

Menu Planning

September 24th, 2012 at 05:18 pm

My ear was still killing me yesterday so I didn't get around to making up a menu plan. It is a teensy bit better today. I'm hoping that means I am on the upswing.

This week's menu is made up with everything I need already on hand, either in the pantry/fridge/freezer or from the garden (lots of green beans and prunes, as you can see). Grocery shopping is the last thing I want to do right now with this cold.

Anyway, this week's menu plan is as follows:

Monday--
Pot roast
Stir-fried green beans
Italian prunes

Tuesday--
Chicken stir-fry with broccoli, celery, carrots, green beans
Italian prunes

Wednesday--
Roast chicken
Baked potatoes
Stir-fried green beans
Pears

Thursday--
Homemade pizza with homemade sausage, orange bell pepper, and yellow onions
Garlic bread
Cole slaw

Friday--
Baked potato soup
Italian prunes
Cole slaw

Sauturday--
Chicken noodle soup
Drop biscuits with homemade jam

Sunday--
Teriyaki beef
Egg fried rice
Stir-fried green beans

She Was a Good Car

September 23rd, 2012 at 11:56 am

Well, with 147,530 miles on it, our 20 year old Crown Victoria has gone to its new home. After putting in $1000 worth of labor fixing up and painting our old house, it's gone to one of the workman who bartered that labor for it. It was a little sad seeing it being driven away, but also nice knowing it's gone to a good home with people who really needed a nice family car. And he knows how to pop the dent out that my mother gave it when she backed her truck into it with the tailgate down.



I think this is the only nice photo I have of it that doesn't have a family member in it. That was the first nice car we ever bought and only the second car I'd ever owned. It was a 1992 that we bought in 1998 for $13,000 with only 19,500 miles on it. It had been beautifully maintained and it purred like a kitten. It was one of the most comfortable riding cars I've ever owned. When we bought her they said she should get to 200,000 miles easy, possibly 250,000 on that engine. She was still beautiful.

We weren't driving it because it needed brake work and a new battery, so we've essentially been a one car family for quite some time, but now it's official. On Monday DH takes the little paper down to the courthouse to make it legal and then he goes to the insurance company to drop the insurance on it. It won't be much of a difference because it only had the most basic stuff on it as it was so old, but it will be a little less.

It kind of feels like the end of an era seeing it go, but I'm glad it went to be reused instead of recycled. It was in too nice of a physical shape for me to be happy with the idea of it going to a junk heap when with a little work on the brakes it is perfectly useable for several more years.

It will cost us $5 to transfer title, but that's an acceptable amount to us for the amount of work we got on the house for it.