Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Ant and the Grasshopper Revisited--a Trailer Park Homestead update

Usually on Wednesdays, I share a bunch of photos to show what's going on at my tiny little homestead.  This week, that isn't happening.  My phone that I use to take all my photos doesn't appear to be on speaking terms with my computer, so I wasn't able to upload any pictures today or yesterday or the day before.  Maybe I'll get some pictures of the garden up later in the week after I fix the other reason I'm not showing off my beautiful garden today...

The garden looks like crap.

I've been neglecting it a bit as I can up a storm in the house, plus we've started up the school year and, unlike parents that ship their kids off to be indoctrinated into who-knows-what beliefs and the questionable socialization of picking up all the other kids bad habits in addition to the ones they already have, as a homeschooling family, that means more work for me.  So far this year, the homeschooling has been going pretty well.  The major complaint from my son is that I haven't been giving him enough worksheets!

Back to the canning though, since that's what has been taking the most chunks of time and it yields the more impressive results for now.  Years from now, when the kids are highly successful in whatever it is they want to do with their lives, I'm sure the homeschooling will be more impressive, but for now, check out what all I've been able to put up since my last Trailer Park Homestead update last Wednesday:

15 pints of tomato sauce
9 pints of diced tomatoes
5 quarts of diced tomatoes
3 1/2 pints of blueberry jam
4 pints of dill pickles
2 quarts of dill pickles
2 pints of peach honey
3 quarts of peaches in honey syrup
19 pints of peaches in honey syrup

In addition to the canning, I've also frozen:

3 1/2 bags (measured for my triple chocolate zucchini muffin recipe) of shredded zucchini
1/2 bag of diced green pepper

It is still a far cry from where I'd like to be in terms of getting ready for the winter, but it is still a lot better then I was doing even just a couple weeks ago, so I'm pleased with the progress.  It is still August after all!  I still have a bit more than a month than the likely first frost for these parts (October 3), plus, with my small garden beds rather than a large traditional garden, I should be able to extend the harvest for at least parts of the garden that would otherwise die with that first frost. 

So there's where I stand as of today.  Maybe today I'll get the garden looking pretty and figure out why my phone isn't talking to my computer (Lover's quarrel?  Or something more technical?) and get some pictures up for you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Putting Up Peaches--Peach honey & honeyed peaches

I'm not being as thrifty as I could be with canning my peaches, I admit it.  I'm using a honey based syrup rather than sugar based, even though it is quite a bit more expensive, based on the idea that it will taste a lot better and be more healthy than refined sugar.  (Plus, it is part of my plot to convince my husband that I should start keeping bees just as soon as I can figure out where to keep them.  Don't tell him though.)  I guess I'm making up some thrifty points though, since I'm using the peels too!

Here's how I've been doing it (please refer to someone or something that actually knows what they are doing, like the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for more tips on how to do this stuff.  I really don't know what the heck I'm doing--just kind of muddling through, following the book):

Canned Honeyed Peaches

Wash peaches.  Dip peaches in boiling water 30 to 60 seconds then immediately immerse in cold water.  Peels should slip right off (if they don't, a paring knife or veggie peeler works as well).  Reserve peels.  Cut peaches in half or quarters and pit.  Pack in jars as you go, covering with syrup once filled.  Leave a 1/2-inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Put on two-piece caps.  Process pints 25 minutes, quarts 30 minutes, in a boiling water canner.

Peach Honey
peach peels

Place peels in a saucepan.  Cover with water.  Heat slowly until peels get mushy.  Strain, pressing down on peels to get as much liquid out as possible.  Discard peels and return liquid to pan, measuring how much there is.  Add 1/2 as much sugar as there is liquid.  Stir in and heat rapidly to boiling.  Boil down quickly until it reaches consistency of honey.  Pour into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Put on two-piece caps.  Process in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Life Without Electricity--emergency or inconvenience?

Do you ever see a headline and think to yourself, "what would I do if it was me and my family in that situation?"  I do.  I saw one such headline last night:

Restoring Power Could Take Weeks

Apparently, for millions of people affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, there will be no electricity coming into their home for weeks.
What do you do when the power goes out?
That. Would. Suck.
If it was me, my first worry would be about the several month supply of food in my freezer.  I generally keep the freezer full enough that a few days without power should be okay as long as we didn't open it.  If I had reason to believe the power would be out for much longer and knew so ahead of time, I might have invested in some dry ice to stick in there to keep it frozen longer, but probably not, since crises have more of a tendency to pop up when I don't have extra funds to deal with it, in my experiences.  More than likely, I'd be dealing with a full small chest freezer, full refrigerator freezer, and whatever is in the fridge.  

There basically would be two groups of things in my freezer:  things that could be canned and things that would have to be eaten right away.  I might organize a series of parties with my neighbors where were in the same boat and open each freezer at a separate time and have everyone eat up whatever was in there so everyone was fed and nothing went bad.  That could keep the whole neighborhood fed a few days if done right!  Before organizing such a thing, I would try to remember what exactly was in my freezer to decide if it was worth while.  Playing like this was happening right now, I wouldn't--the eat-it-up category of my freezer at this very moment (by memory, since if I open it, I'd be letting out valuable cold air) consist of a little bit of ice cream, an individual size frozen pizza, some raw cookie dough, and some breaded fish patties (just checked: there is also a package of hot dogs).  Not really worth having a pig-out party for.  We definitely could eat that up right away.    

In addition to the "definitely eat it up right away" category, there is some frozen shredded zucchini, a bunch of sweetened strawberries, and a fairly large quantity of goat milk frozen in the chest freezer that I might want to use up, but maybe I can come up with some way to save them.  Without looking at anything, I'm thinking I probably could use the zucchini in a stew, make something jam-like out of the strawberries or perhaps dry them to make some fruit leather.  I should be able to make the goat's milk into yogurt or possibly cheese, if I have the right things on hand.  That would extend it's life quite a bit, especially if I waited until it thawed on its own, or let one or two quarts thaw at a time to make yogurt from and keep use the rest as ice packs in a cooler to keep everything that needs to be eaten up from the refrigerator fresh a bit longer.  A cooler would be easier to keep cold since it is a smaller area.  My kids can put away a lot of yogurt if I let them, especially if we mixed it with some of those strawberries, so that might use up the goat milk before the crisis was even resolved. Any remaining veggies or meats left in there could be used up as we needed them, or I could finally break open my pressure canner box and see how that's done.  I'm sure I need heat and water to do it though.  I'm not sure what the situation for gas, since I have a gas stove, and water would be in this scenario, but if I had neither being supplied to my home and the aide that I'm sure will be going to the area didn't allow for that much water being distributed, I should be able to use either our grill, camp stove, or a fire for the heat source, possibly making a nice little fire pit in the yard with some of those bricks that I've been using for landscaping and to hide my compost bin.  There is a small forest surrounding the trailer park that I'm sure I could find some wood in to fuel the fire, not to mention the pallets in my garage that I could burn if needed.   

If I'm on my own for water, that's a little trickier, but not impossible.  I have several sheets of plastic and tarps in the garage that I primarily use for yard sales and to cover the garden beds on frosty nights, but those and a few sticks and bricks could easily be turned into an evaporation/condensation based water filter to get particulates out of the water I'd be using.  There are a couple ponds within easy walking distance that water could be collected from and brought back either in containers in my wheelbarrow or the kids' wagon or both.  It might take a couple days, I really don't know, to get enough water to use for canning, but I've got a couple days until I need to start worrying about the stuff in the still closed freezers anyway.  Maybe I'll get lucky and it will rain so I can just collect rainwater.  Or maybe I'd raid the water heater and the some of the water I stored in my bathtubs ahead of time, counting on being able to replenish it through rainwater or my makeshift filter later.  No matter how I do it, the water doesn't need to be 100% pure at this point, just not toxic or filled with particles.  Bacteria will be killed in the canning process, so I don't have to worry about that part.  Then I can away, saving everything I can can.    

Good thing I have plenty of jars and lids on hand, huh?  If I run out, we'll just have to go back to plan A of eating everything, right?  Maybe not.  Some things probably could be dried, either in an improvised solar dehydrator with the plastic sheets (maybe even under them as they are used to condense water?  Interesting idea!) or our vehicles also could be used as solar dehydrators.  If the gas is on, maybe they could be dehydrated in the oven as well.  If the choices are try or just let it go to waste, I'm definitely going to give it a shot!
Once the food is saved, the major issue will be laundry.  We won't be changing clothes every day in this scenario, but for things that do have to be changed and washed more frequently, like undies or cloth diapers, they'll have to be washed by hand.  Not really that big of deal.  I've done it before when the washer was broken and I didn't have enough money for a Laundromat.  Just throw them in a large container with some laundry detergent, maybe agitate it a bit by swirling things around, scrub a bit to get the extra icky bits off (not looking forward to that with the poopy diapers, but now would be a really good time to work really hard on potty-training I think!), rinse and find someplace to hang to dry.   

Beyond the food, laundry, and the hot showers that I'd just have to live without, I don't think it would be that big of deal.  Sure, there would be no television, my writing would have to be on paper to share later rather than facing its usual instant audience, bedtime would be a lot earlier and morning would come with the dawn, but other than that, I think it would actually be pretty nice.  I should still be able to communicate with the outside world via my cell phone (car chargers sure can be handy, eh?) and, if not, I have my family here and my neighbors, who'd probably be a lot more social without the non-stop media to distract them from community life.  Entertainment would come in the form of books and games with other humans, not a machine.  After those first few days of intense canning and improvising to get things normalized, I don't think it would be much of an emergency or inconvenience.  It would actually be pretty nice.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

No-Bake Energy Bars--the perfect disaster food?

Note:  Even though this post is for Sunday, I'm letting it go live quite a bit early because it is such a good survival food.  With hurricane Irene bearing down on some of the most populated areas in the country, I wanted to give people in those areas a chance to print it out before the storm hits in case they lose power and don't have enough shelf stable supplies on hand without making something.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the people in the hurricane zone today and tomorrow.

These energy bars are absolutely amazing in their versatility, as well as in that they require no heating or refrigeration to prepare.  They should store okay at room temperature for at least a few days, but if you want to keep them longer, they should last about a month in the refrigerator, or even longer in the freezer.  They are so yummy that it is unlikely that you will need to worry about storing them for a long time!

At their most basic, these energy/protein/fiber bars are 3 1/2 cups of fibery stuff, primarily oats; 1 cup liquid sweetener, whether you use honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, or, as a last resort since it is by far the most unhealthy option, corn syrup; 1/4 cup crunchy stuff, whether it be seeds, nuts, or a crispy rice cereal; 1 cup nut butter; and sweet tasty stuff, either dried fruit of your choice or candy bits.  Below is the exact combination of things that I used to make them today (in large part that this is what I had on hand that met the requirements I figured I needed) and they were delicious!  My kids kept calling them brownies and my husband likened them to no-bake cookies.

No-bake Energy Bars
3 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup peanut butter (crunchy or creamy)
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix oats, flax seed, and sesame seeds in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, mix honey, molasses, maple syrup, vanilla, and peanut butter until thoroughly blended.  Pour liquid mixture into dry mixture and stir until oats are evenly coated.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Grease a 9"x13"in pan or cover with waxed paper (I went the waxed paper route--much easier to remove, since the bars stay pretty soft, at least that first day).  Press mixture into pan, using another piece of waxed paper to make it firm.  Let set an hour or two to firm up (or eat immediately, but it will be very crumbly!) before cutting.
If you like this recipe, be sure to give it a thumbs up on the Living Well Blog Hop!
This recipe and many other great whole food recipes can also be found on Fresh Bites Friday at Real Food Whole Health.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Preparedness 101--Surviving the first 72 hours

It never ceases to amaze me that people who live in areas prone to certain disasters, like hurricane Irene, seem to be caught by surprise every year when *gasp* they are actually in the path of such a disaster.  They scramble to the store in the hopes of grabbing up those critical pieces of plywood, precious bottles of water, or other supplies.  Isn't it common sense to just have these things on hand rather than risk waiting until the last minute and get there five minutes after they sold the last of what you need?

I remember years ago I was in Miami during hurricane season.  As soon as hurricane Erin was headed in our general direction, I started to get concerned that maybe the family I was staying with should get some plywood for the giant picture window that spanned half the length of the house as well as the smaller windows and maybe actually go grocery shopping to have basic supplies on hand since they almost always ate out and never had any food in the house.  They insisted there was nothing to worry about and did nothing--until the day before the hurricane was supposed to hit.  They finally headed over to Home Depot to get some plywood, but, surprise, surprise, they were sold out, so they had to wait half the day in line for the next truck to come in.  I don't think they got any groceries or water at any point, but I do remember that even the vastly overpriced individual serving bottles of water we sold at the ice cream shop I worked at was sold out.

As it turned out, the hurricane missed us, but we still had some serious flooding, enough that when an (idiot) car drove by, water would lap up into the house through the front door, a good couple feet above street level.  The menfolk in the family I was staying with contemplated taking a canoe to look for an open take-out place to get some food the day after (they ordered pizza in during the storm.  Good thing there was someplace still open!), but decided that since the water was only about knee high, it would be a better idea just to wade through it.  Amazingly, they did manage to find food (super yummy Cuban food!  Yay!), the water receded in a matter of days and everyone lived happily ever after.  At least, I assume they did--I eventually lost contact with this family, but I do know for a fact that they at least lived long enough that they suffered no permanent injury or illness from the supreme stupidity of that summer.  Seems to me that just assuming everything will work out and that there will be food, water, medical help, etc, available when facing a disaster is just asking for serious trouble sooner or later though.

I tend to opt to be a little more (by little more, I'd like to think completely) prepared for just about anything.  Here in Michigan, we don't have to worry about hurricanes, but tornadoes and snow storms are both a real threat at different times of year.  Regardless of the nature of the potential emergency, basic human needs are the same:  shelter, water, food, basic medical care. 

Regardless of the situation developing, you need to be someplace that will withstand whatever disaster that is coming.  All the preps in the world aren't going to matter if you don't survive the initial storm.  Ironically, living in a trailer in a trailer park, this is my greatest weakness, at least when it comes to tornadoes.  Fortunately, with the early warning technology that exists, I should have enough time to get my family somewhere safer if it looks likely a tornado will hit where I'm at.

Just like my tornado example, if you are in the path of a hurricane and you are advised to evacuate, don't be stupid, don't try to be "manly" or tough and stick it out.  Leave!  Find someone safe to stay if at all possible.  If it isn't possible or if it isn't bad enough in your area that you need to leave, you'll want to secure your location.  This means both making sure the windows are boarded up, all loose items on the property are secured or brought inside, and doing anything else you can to make sure things aren't damaged during the storm, and being prepared to defend yourself from potential looters or attacks after the event.  Defense doesn't have to be just weaponry either--hiding so it looks like the place is deserted with all valuables (both supply and expensive stuff) is already gone so it isn't worth looting.  Some people like dogs for defense, but I see them as more of a liability since it is just another mouth to feed, something to look after, and it isn't that hard for a bad guy to just shoot the dog--plus I'm highly allergic.

People will die of dehydration long before starvation, so water should be your first priority after shelter, which is probably a good chunk of why water seems to be the first thing to disappear off of store shelves when a storm approaches.  So how much water should you have on hand?  A good rule of thumb is a gallon of water per person per day.  It is better to err on the side of too much though, since water is the most crucial thing in a survival situation.  Even if you have a healthy supply of bottled water in the event of disaster, it is still a good idea to fill bathtubs, sinks, and any other available container with tap water for sanitation purposes.  You really can't know ahead of time how long you'll be on your own and water is one thing you absolutely can not afford to run out of.

It is always good to have food on hand in the house, but especially so if you may be trapped in your house for at least a few days.  I really like the LDS food storage guidelines of having a minimum of 1-year's worth of food on hand, but I'm the first to admit that I'm not there just yet.  I'm hoping by the end of the growing season, I'll have enough food to last until next year's food is ready to start harvesting.

For a survival type situation like after a hurricane or ice storm, your goal is much more modest.  You want to make sure you have at least 3 to 7 days worth of food that doesn't require refrigeration to store or electricity to prepare.  Watching the news reports and footage of people getting ready for hurricane Irene, I don't know whether to laugh, feel sorry for, or be scared for the people that are clearing the store shelves of milk.  What do they think they are going to do with that?  When you lose power, you absolutely don't want to open your refrigerator or freezer (and stuff them full, maybe even stick some dry ice in there ahead of time if possible) so they will retain the cold better and you'll be less likely to lose the contents to spoilage.  For your emergency foods, things that don't require any heating are best.  Foods you like are also key, since you don't want to end up with kids or anyone else turning their noses up at the only food available and having their health suffer for it.  Protein bars, dried fruit, nuts, bread, peanut butter, canned fruit, jerky (if you like such things), canned beans (if in a flavor you can stand, like baked beans), and dry cereal are all good choices.  After the initial disaster, you may have the option to cook on a grill or even open fire (outside, don't be stupid and try to make one indoors), which would open up your options more (s'mores anyone?) but you still don't want to need refrigeration, although I suppose I could see someone buying a bunch of steaks or other meats to keep in a cooler for a post-hurricane barbeque to celebrate that they survived!  From a purely practical standpoint, it wouldn't be ideal though--if nothing else, you'd be setting yourself up for increased likelihood of attack by looters who want that steak (see section on shelter) and any other great stuff they might then assume you have.

Medical/First Aid
Pretty straightforward:  if you depend on medication to live, that needs to be a huge priority to make sure you have enough to last until you can get more at the very minimum.  It is also imperative that you have basic first aid supplies on hand.  It would really suck for a minor wound to get seriously infected before help arrives so you end up losing a limb or dying, just because you didn't have something to sanitize the wound and bandages to cover it to keep it clean.  It is also useful to know what to do if someone breaks a bone, has a heart attack, or a severe allergic reaction.  For non-super-life-threatening medical issues in which seconds count, you may want to have a guide on first aid available with your kit to refer to.

It may seem like a lot if you are like the family I mentioned in my story at the beginning of this post, but it really isn't that big of deal to get all this stuff together.  Really, it just takes a little common sense and thinking ahead.  Really, isn't your life and the lives of your loved ones worth it?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Top 10 Things I've Learned About Canning This Year

This year, I've decided I need to get fairly serious about canning.  Last year, I dabbled with some blueberry sauce, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes.  This year, I actually bought a real water bath canner instead of using a stock pot, plus my husband bought me a pressure canner that I haven't used yet, but am dreaming of using post-hunting season when (hopefully) my freezer will be overflowing with venison and I'll need to find another place to put some, like in jars, probably largely in stew or chili form, for homemade heat-and-serve type meals.

Taking my home canning to a whole new level has been quite a learning experience for me.  Here are the top 10 things I've learned so far this year:

10.  The pop after lifting the jars out of the water is one of the happiest sounds in the world.  It isn't proof positive that you got a good seal and it is safe to eat in a few months, but it is a nice hint.   Plus it sounds cool.

9.  Wear comfortable shoes.  Usually, I'm a barefoot kind of gal, but standing for hours chopping and stirring and doing who knows what else can make the footsies a little tired.  Not to mention stepping on a stray peach peel that you dropped 10 minutes earlier has a serious ick factor to it.

8.  Make sure things that you are going to can are properly ripe.  I learned this one after battling with peaches that were seriously underripe.  Instead of the skins slipping gently off like the instructions I read said they would, I was fighting them for their lives, oftentimes with the peach making a break for it with amazing leaps and twirls that a gymnast would find absolutely inspiring.

7.  Take the weather into account.  The kitchen will get hot.  Very, very, very, dripping-with-sweat-in-a-most-unattractive-manner hot.  It might be best to can on a day or evening that isn't so hot.

6.  If possible, don't harvest more than you can process before you can get a chance to process it.  A lot of the stuff I'm canning this year is coming from a farmers market, so, to some extent, that's dictated when I get what I have to process.  On the other hand, I really didn't need to go back to the farmers market to get blueberries and tomatoes two days after I'd bought the peaches that I still hadn't canned plus I still hadn't done anything with some of the stuff the zucchini fairy gave me.  That's a recipe for a stress sandwich right there!  There are only so many hours in a day--it is a good idea to plan accordingly.

5.  Having enough cupboard space in the kitchen or pantry isn't a requirement for canning tons of great food.  As long as it is in a cool, dark place, the jars of yummies aren't going to care where you keep them.  I probably will end up keeping some of my summer treasures in a jar under my bed or in my bedroom closet over the winter, or maybe tucked behind books on the bookshelf.  I vaguely remember my mom keeping her home canned goodies in a downstairs linen closet, so I'm not the only one who has ever put food in unusual places.  Just don't forget where you stash it.

4.  Having the right tools makes the job a lot easier!  Last year, I didn't have anything that was actual canning gear except the jars and two piece lids.  I used a regular funnel with a pretty narrow bottom for getting the stuff in the jars and salad tongs instead of an actual jar lifter.  This year, I splurged on an actual utensil set with a real jar lifter, funnel, a tool for removing bubbles, and a magnetic lid lifter.  So much easier--plus it is fun to pretend that the lid lifter is a magic wand.

3.  It's all about the acid--and somethings might be more acidic than you think.  I knew from last year that blueberries and tomatoes were acidic enough to just need a water bath canner, but I was surprised to find that I didn't need a pressure canner for peaches or applesauce.  I probably would have canned a lot more last year if I had realized that.  Then again, it might have been a good thing I didn't tempt fate more than I did, since I hadn't yet learned.....

2.  Know what the heck you are doing!  After I started reading the Ball Blue Book, my new canning bible, I was seriously amazed that we lived through the previous year of my incompetent dabbling in last year.  Obviously, just starting out, you aren't going to know everything, but find someone who does to teach your or a very, very thorough instruction book, like the Ball Blue Book.

1.  Canning is fun!  Okay, it really isn't.  It is a long, labor intensive process that will likely lead to the aforementioned aching feet and sleep deprivation.  However, it is very empowering to realize that no one is in control of your food but you and you will be able to feed your family the very best food there is all winter long.

Now, I'm off to do more canning!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Veggie Stew with Dumplings

1/2 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1 large green pepper, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 medium potatoes, unpeeled and cubed
2 cups winter squash, cubed (butternut or acorn work best, but others can be used)
1 medium zucchini or summer squash, quartered and sliced
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

3 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
Saute onion and green pepper in olive oil in a large saucepan until onion is tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in 3 cups of stock; heat to boiling.  In a separate container, thoroughly combine remaining stock and 1/3 cup flour.  Stir into boiling mixture;  boil, stirring constantly until thickened, about 1 minute.  Stir in potatoes, squash, zucchini, peas, basil, oregano, and thyme.  Simmer, covered, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Cut the butter into the remaining flour, baking powder and salt with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Stir in milk.  Drop dough by spoonfuls onto the hot vegetables in the boiling stew; do not drop directly into the liquid.  Cook uncovered 10 minutes, then cover and cook for 10 minutes longer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Is It Nap Time Yet?--a Trailer Park Homestead update

I am tired.  So much so, I'm starting to look forward to winter, so I can take a bit of a break for a while!  This time of year is insane!  Right now, I still have to maintain the garden that's been there (weeding and watering and such), keep up with fresh plantings of greens, harvest whatever I can, put up whatever I can for the winter, gear up for another year of homeschooling, get the kids registered for their extra curricular activities, plus the regular stuff of dishes, laundry, keeping the house tidy, taking care of the kids, cooking dinner, etc.

The house is not particularly tidy. 

Right now, especially after the anxiety issues I mentioned last week, I need to be focused mainly on getting food for the winter.  With that in mind, in the past week, I've froze a couple baggies each of snap beans and corn, canned a few jars of tomato sauce, a few black bean and corn salsa, and 7 quarts of peaches.  Today, I have a couple good sized boxes of tomatoes from the farmers market to do something with (mostly canning, maybe can some more sauce too), a few more quarts of peaches to do something with, some blueberries I want to make into jam at the kids' request, and some zucchini I want to turn into triple chocolate zucchini muffins for freezing, since I think the finished muffins would freeze better than just shredded zucchini and that's what they'd turn into anyway. 

It is going to be another looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong day.

In the meantime, my garden also looks like crap from all the pests and disease that have been taking over, since I don't know what the heck I'm doing here, but giving it my best effort anyway:

Obviously, the watermelon looks happy, since it is taking over half the front yard, but it doesn't seem to be producing very much, so I don't know what the deal is.  More importantly, I don't know what the deal is with these tomato plants, but they are starting to look half dead!  I originally thought it was the heat reflecting off the patio that was making them look sad, so I moved them to the front of the house, but now they look even sadder!  I don't know if it is a watering issue (even though they get watered as much as my other tomatoes in buckets) or the cold nights we've been having at times or what.
While not technically a pest related picture (although the trailer park manager has had her moments, hasn't she?), I just think it is funny how perfectly some of these calendula flowers coordinate with the bright orange buckets that are officially not being used as pots but really are.
I think I'm losing the battle of the squash vine borer, since this pumpkin plant looks worse daily.  Such a shame too, since that dangling pumpkin is so cool, and I was looking forward to it being joined by more.  I haven't given up the fight yet though!
The large holes in the bean leaves are brought to me courtesy of the Japanese beetles, who seem to like the beans themselves as well.  Fortunately, the children think it is great fun to pluck mostly chewed up leaves full of the dang things while they are sleeping and crushing the heck out of them.  If it wasn't so late in the season, I'd probably start thinking of someplace to hide some of those Japanese beetle hanging bag traps, but I don't have time these days to go looking for a good spot.  The beans plants are kind of being a pest to the corn as well, since they seem to be mobbing just a few stalks rather than spreading out more evenly.  Oops, my bad, I guess!  The corn stalks that have a bunch of bean stalks on them are falling over!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Cooking Contest: the quest for the perfect peach salsa

My biggest splurge grocery shopping is chips and salsa.  I'm working on getting to the point of being able to make my own tortilla chips, starting with corn seed, growing the plants, harvesting the corn, and making cornmeal, but I've come no where near being able to replicate my favorite salsa.  My mom has been trying without success and I haven't even found anything in books or online that looks remotely similar.
That's where you come in.  We're going to have a little contest for who can come up with the recipe that tastes the most like my favorite salsa, Meijer Gold medium peach chipotle salsa.  The ingredients list reads: peaches, tomato puree, filtered water, onions, tomatoes, assorted chiles & peppers, evaporated cane juice, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice from concentrate, salt and spices.

The contest will run until October 3 (the average first frost date for my area, after which I'm sure it will be a lot harder to obtain fresh local peaches and tomatoes).  The winner will be the person that comes up with a recipe (original OR found somewhere) that most closely resembles the flavor of the store-bought salsa.  If none of the salsas entered taste like this product, the best tasting, as determined by me and my family, will be the winner.  If more than one person submits the same fount recipe, the first one to enter it will be considered the winner.  The prize is an assortment of seeds from the Trailer Park Homestead and a cookbook from my personal collection to be determined later (seeds can only be shipped within the US, the book prize is available internationally).  Post your recipes in the comments so I can find them easily and have record in one place of when each recipe was entered.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Super Easy Basic Tomato Sauce

Ball Blue Book Guide to PreservingLast year, I made the tomato sauce in an older edition of the book Stocking Up.  We were not all that happy with it though.  It was a pain to make, didn't thicken up really well, and it gave my husband heartburn.

This year, I decided to learn how to can right (I'm actually a little amazed we survived the year with all the things I did wrong last year and, no, I don't want to talk about it).  I received the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving for Christmas and it is a-maz-ing!  Among the many, many, many treasures I've already discovered is a super, simple, basic tomato sauce that only contains one ingredient if you eat it fresh (tomatoes) and two if you can it (tomatoes and lemon juice).  Perfect!  Whenever I use tomato sauce, I end up seasoning it anyway, so I don't really need it to be seasoned in the jar and would rather it be untainted until I'm ready to mold it into the favor I desire.

So I did what I do with all recipes I use:  I changed it.  Yeah, I know I called it perfect before, but I decided it could be perfecter (yes, I know that is not grammatically correct.  Sometimes I like to throw in made up words for a touch of whimsy.  I do it when speaking as well because I find it amusing.  I try to write exactly like I talk as much as possible so people recognize me when they meet me in real life.  Well, I guess I do swear more in real life...).  Here is my new and improved  super easy basic tomato sauce:

Super Easy Basic Tomato Sauce
lemon juice (if canning)

Core and cut off the blossom ends of the tomatoes.  Quarter and stick into a large pot (how large will depend on how many tomatoes you are doin' up).  Simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and puree in a food processor or blender.  Return to pan and simmer until it reaches about half of its original volume.  Remove from heat and strain briefly (don't force it.  Just dump the stuff in a strainer and let it piddle out for a minute or so).  Return thicken sauce to pan and combine with about half of the juice that was just strained out.  Freeze the remaining juice in an ice cube tray (bag up in freezer bags once frozen) for use in flavoring sauces and stews.  Let sauce simmer until ready to can or package immediately for freezing.  

If canning, add 1 tbsp of lemon juice per pint of sauce.  Process in a water bath canner, pints for 35 minutes, quart for 40.

If you don't know how to can, take a class, learn from someone that's been doing it for umpteen trillion years without killing off anyone from food poisoning, or get the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.  Seriously.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Eggplant and Tomato Casserole

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
It is probably just as well that my phone, which I use to take all my pictures for this blog, is broken.  I wouldn't want to show you a picture of this stuff anyway.  It does not look tasty, but boy is it!  My kids didn't like it, but I think it was just too much of a "grown-up" dish, not so pleasing to a child's palate...either that or they couldn't get over how yucky it looked!

Really, it is yummy though, so just close your eyes when you eat it if you need to.  It's worth it!

Considering I didn't have to pay for any of the vegetables (either I grew them or a friend did) or the venison (my father-in-law's hunting bounty he shared with us), I estimate this meal cost about $2 to feed the family.  

Eggplant and Tomato Casserole

1 medium eggplant, pared and sliced 1/4 thick
salt, to taste
1/3 lb ground meat
1 small onion, halved and sliced thinly
2 tbsp fresh basil
4 medium tomatoes, sliced thinly
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup Italian bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350.  Season the eggplant with the salt and let stand for 10-15 minutes.  Drain off liquid that forms.

Brown ground meat, adding onions and basil toward end of cooking time; set aside.  Quickly brown eggplant slices on each side.

Place 1/3 of the eggplant slices in a casserole dish.  Layer 1/3 of the tomatoes, 1/3 of the meat mixture, 1/3 cup of the cheese, 1/3 of the tomatoes, 1/3 of the meat mixture, 1/3 of the cheese, and the last of the tomatoes.  Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes, then layer on the last of the meat mixture and the last of the cheese.  Mix olive oil and bread crumbs; spread over casserole.  Bake for 30 minutes until top is golden brown and eggplant is tender.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Battle of the Squash Vine Borers--a mini-Trailer Park Homestead update

The good news:  it appears the reports of the death of the pumpkin plant in one of the Three Sister's bed was greatly exaggerated. 

The bad news:  it looks like the vertical growing pumpkin plant, the one that has pumpkins forming six feed in the air, seems to be possessed by those creatures from the fiery pits of hell: the squash vine borer.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

When I posted about the demonic beasties destroying one of the Sisters, I linked to a Wikipedia article about them.  I noticed when I was initially looking at the article that some people were able to save their squash plants by burying lengths of the vine in different areas to encourage the plants to develop roots in other areas so the evil arthropods couldn't completely kill them.  I decided it was worth a shot on my one Sister pumpkin that just seemed mostly dead.  Sure enough it worked!  The plant seemed to not even notice its infestation anymore!

Then, the other day, I noticed my favorite pumpkin had some tell-tale uckies around the stem base, indicating a likely problem.  I fought the urge to call 911, since, even though it was a valid emergency in my gardener's mind, I didn't think they would agree.  I was on my own.  I wanted to try the same idea as what worked before, but how do you bury the vine in different spots on a vertically growing plant? 

1: "Cut a hole in a box"
I decided to try turning a cardboard box into a root tunnel that would let the plant form roots just a bit beyond where the issue was, but it would then connect back to the soil in the raised bed, since a large enough box to support an entire root system wouldn't hold together for long...or be able to be supported for the twine that holds up the plant.

I cut a hole in a box and cut the box along the side so I wrap it around the stem, then duct taped it into place (is there anything duct tape can't do?).  I filled it with soil and whispered a few encouraging words to the plant.  Hopefully that will be enough.  I guess only time will tell

Friday, August 19, 2011


Welcome to the party!  Would you like some chips & salsa?
I think 200 posts is worth celebrating don't you?  To celebrate, I'm having the biggest giveaway I've ever had!  I've got a great list of prizes (more may be added through the day, so watch for announcements of that throughout the day), so I know you want to play!  Here are the prizes currently available:
1. Dill seeds (courtesy of SimplerTimes Homestead):  1"x3" mini baggie. enough for a small batch of dill pickles, planting or simply seasoning a nice dish.  Note these are organic seeds. Origins of the plants are volunteers from last year at an organic community garden plot we cultivate.  Offer good in the US only.  Congrats, Kim P!
2. Dried lavender, 8 grams (courtesy of Lawnless Trials): US only  Congratulations, Tina!
3. Dried boneset, 7 grams (courtesy of Lawnless Trials): US only Congratulations, SustainableHome!
4. Dried yarrow flowers, 6 grams (courtesy of Lawnless Trials):  US only Congrats, Kim D-M
5. Dried calendula flowers, 6 grams (courtesy of Lawnless Trials):  US only Congrats, Tasha!
6. Dried calendula flowers, 5 grams (courtesy of Lawnless Trials):  US only Congratulations, magreen!
7. Assorted seeds: US only.  This is a Trailer Park Homestead assortment that will include some goodies from my garden, including ground cherry seeds, a few tomato, zucchini, some Amish snap peas, and whatever else I find.  Since it is a TPH assortment, there are only a few of each, but they should all be heirloom seeds (I'll mark it if any aren't), so you can use these few seeds to grow more seeds for future years!   Congrats, Allyson!
8. Seed assortment 2 (courtesy of Allure of Hearth and Home):  Us only.  This is not an heirloom collection so you get what you get:  Golden Cross Bantam Hybrid Sweet Corn, Blue Lake Stringless Garden Bean, Sweet Italian Basil, National Pickling Cucumber, Big Max Pumpkin, Crimson Sweet Watermelon, Nantes Coreless Carrot  Congratulations, Amie!
The following books are all used, but in good to like new condition:
Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (Revised edition)9.  Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (Revised edition)Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, first published in 1981 and revised in 1993, is the sacred text for those wanting to liberate themselves from enslavement to a job and the pursuit of status symbols. Elgin's work emerges from a concern for the environmental consequences of our mass consumption lifestyles. His book exhorts us to save the planet and our souls by "living with balance in order to find a life of greater purpose."   Congratulations, grammasmiles!
The NEW Passport To Survival. 12 Steps to Self-Sufficient Living 10. The NEW Passport To Survival. 12 Steps to Self-Sufficient Living: The New Passport To Survival is your Passport To Peace, your ticket to a self-sufficient lifestyle - whether you choose to live in a city, a suburb, or in a rural area. This book will show you how to prepare, without panicking, for all kinds of disasters-loss of a job, natural and man-made disasters, or global calamities.  Congrats, Anne!
 11.  Cooking Without AdditivesToday's hectic lifestyle creates a new set of problems in the kitchen, but most can be solved with the help of a well-stocked freezer, and ideally a microwave-cooker too--ensuring a healthy balanced diet for busy people.  (I don't like to use my microwave, which is why I don't want this book anymore) Congratulations, Amy S!
Herbally Yours (Health Education)
12.  Herbally Yours (Health Education)
Herbally Yours is the first comprehensive herbal handbook.  An easy to use, alphabetized guide to the use of herbs, Herbally Yours, is simple enough for the herbal student, complete enough for the herbal practitioner.   A complete list of herbs and herbal combinations and how to use them.  An alphabetized list of health problems and what herbs aid.  Chapters on diet, cleansing, pregnancy, nursing, and babies.   Herbal first aid, poultices and tinctures, Herbally Yours is a veritable herbal encyclopedia. Congratulations, Lydia Harper!
13.  1 credit good for any one of more than 5 million used books!:  Must have a valid Paperbackswap account.  US only (since Paperbackswap is only available in the US)  Congratulations Patricialynn!
What a great list of prizes, wouldn't you say???  And it is so easy to enter!  Actually, there are two ways to enter:  1.  Comment on this blog post (on the actual blog, not any syndicated feed of it off in the wilds of the WWW), telling me what your favorite Adventures of a Thrifty Mama blog post was your favorite of all time (so far) or 2.  Post a link to your favorite Adventures of a Thrifty Mama blog post (this one doesn't gotta work harder than that!) on your Facebook page, tagging Adventures of a Thrifty Mama, so I know you did it.  All entries will be stuck into a hat (actually, I'll probably use a web-based randomizing tool, but if it was a real life party, I'd probably use a hat, so we'll go with that for the imagery of it) that I will draw from at random times throughout the day (ie, whenever I think of it and am near my computer to make sure my list of entries is up to date).  I will then tweet the winner's name (which will also be automatically be posted on my Facebook page so you can watch for that either way) and that winner gets to pick the prize they would like most from the available prizes.  I'll be crossing out the prizes as they are no longer available, as well as adding any more that get donated by anyone that would like to promote their blog or business that way. The winner will then need to email me with the prize they'd like and the address they would like it sent to.  Prizes will be awarded in order of valid emails (both prize requested and address included) received, not names drawn, so if you are a winner, but dally about before claiming your prize, you may miss out on the prize you want because a quicker fishie may have snagged that worm!  With that in mind, cancel any plans you had for the day and come hang out at the Trailer Park Homestead PAR-TAY!
The party will continue until the beer, er, prizes, I meant to say prizes, run out!  Since everything is random, I don't even know how long it will last!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Calendula Salve

I've been in love with calendula salve for years.  I've long thought that I should start making my own instead of paying a small fortune to buy it from craftspeople that make it as a hobby or sideline income or even at a health food store.  I always assumed, for what I paid for it, it would be expensive or difficult to make.

I was wrong.

Turns out it really is simple to turn these lovely flowers:
into this slimy greenish goo that is good for a multitude of skin issues, from burns, including sunburns, to chapped skin to diaper rash to reducing pain or inflammation:
Really, it should be stored in an opaque container, but I didn't have one handy, so I just stuck it in a jelly jar and am keeping it in a dark cabinet that rarely is opened and never sees sunlight.

It didn't even cost much.  I paid a whopping 9 cents for the flower seeds (on clearance in May, even though they weren't supposed to be planted until June or July in these parts).  The beeswax I've had so long I don't remember how much I paid for it, but I don't think it was much, since I bought it right from a beekeeper (I'm hoping that by the time I run out, I'll have convinced my hubby that I should have a beehive somewhere so we don't have to pay for anymore honey, beeswax or any other bee products we might wish to use).  I used a generic olive oil, so that cost about $0.75 for this batch.  I'm not even sure how little the drops of tea tree oil and vitamin E oil cost, but it has to be pennies.

I chose to use tea tree oil and vitamin E oil because A) they are natural preservatives so I should be able to use what I make until it runs out, however long that should be; and B) because I feel they give the salve some extra umph.  Tea tree oil is excellent for just about any skin problem whether it be fungal, bacterial, viral, insect-al (pretty sure that isn't a word, but it soothes bug bites and stings, so I'm using it), rashes of mysterious origin, burns, cuts, scrapes, and more.  Vitamin E helps prevent scars, so I thought that would be nice to throw in too.

Calendula salve
1 cup calendula petals
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp grated beeswax
10 drops tea tree oil
10 drops vitamin E oil

Gently simmer calendula petals in olive oil in a glass or stainless steel pan for 2 hours (take care that it never reaches a full boil or you are likely to have serious problems), stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Strain petals out of oil using a piece of cheesecloth or fine strainer.  Melt beeswax in a double boiler (I actually just wiped the remaining petals out of the pan I'd been using and let the heat of the pan melt the wax, without turning the burner back on.  Technically, beeswax should be heated with a double boiler though).  Remove from heat (if you actually had it on heat and weren't a rebel like me).  Mix in the strained oil.  Add drops of tea tree oil and vitamin E oil.  Stir together well and pour into container for storage.  Allow to solidify before using.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Ant And the Grasshopper--a Trailer Park Homestead update

If you're not familiar, "The Ant and the Grasshopper" is one of Aesop's fables.  It tells the story of how the grasshopper dallies about and plays all summer while the ant toils away putting things up for the winter.  The grasshopper mocks the ant while the weather is warm and food is in abundance, but when the snow starts falling, the ant is safe in its nice, warm home, full of good things to eat, while the grasshopper goes hungry, freezes, and dies.

I've been starting to worry that I've been being too much of a grasshopper of late.

Sure, I've got a great garden going, full of potential yet, but it seems like I ought to have more put up for the winter already.  So far, I just have strawberries, blueberries, jams (strawberry and raspberry), and a few beets frozen, plus a bunch of onions cured for storage in a "root cellar" (more on that later, when I finish figuring out exactly what I'm doing for that!).  I don't have anything canned yet at all.  I guess it is still pretty early for having much put up here in Michigan; if I remember right, last year it was mostly the end of August and September I was doing most of my "harvest" (harvested from the farmers market) and I had to stop early because we moved at the beginning of October.

I should also take solace in the fact that my freezer is almost full of something, which is a really good sign, and I really don't want it to get too much more full or I won't have enough room for the venison that I expect to be getting to keep us supplied with meat for the next year, hence the need to start canning.  Here's what's growing around the Trailer Park Homestead (maybe that will make me feel better too):
Sights like this do not do anything to ease my mind!  The dang birds are eating the sunflower seeds almost as fast as they develop!  Maybe tying a plastic grocery bag around each of the sunflower heads would help?
It doesn't seem like my beans are producing as much as they were last year.  Maybe they don't like the Three Sisters thing (they are trying to knock over the corn in places!) or maybe too many neighborhood kids are having a snack when they come over to play, I don't know.  Either way, I think next year, I'm going to go back to growing these in the square foot garden boxes, since they did amazingly well there last year.
This does give me some hope.  If this potato condo lives up to expectations, that would be 100 lbs of potatoes!  That's a lot of food!  Of course, then I'm back to my lack of root cellar storage issue, but that is a problem I'll welcome!  I am pretty confident I have some ideas that should work for that.  There are still two levels of slats to put on the potato condo before I get super excited though.
Another encouraging sign:  the rutabaga (on the left) seem to be doing great, which will be wonderful for making venison pasties this fall for easy freezer meals for a while to come (why I'm not worried about "root cellar" space for the rutabaga) and the bell pepper plants are starting to produce peppers faster than I'm using them.  I'll be able to start adding them to my freezer stock any day!
The back raised bed is nearly full of young snap pea plants, carrots, broccoli, and cabbage.  Very soon, I need to fill all remaining space with spinach.  That should help my current food insecurities as well.  It does make me nervous that it is getting so late in the year and the plants are still so small, but since they are in this tight space, I can cover them to extend the growing season if need be.
The kids are finally starting to leave the corn alone, probably due to a combination of the facts that I've been getting sweet corn from the farmers market so they'll leave the dent corn alone....and that they can't reach it!  Is that weird that I'm considering making homemade venison corn dogs with this stuff this winter?
So maybe I'm not really being a grasshopper.  After all, in addition to what I've showcased here, I still have tomatoes (not doing nearly as well as I'd like), cucumbers (still struggling to keep the kids out of them), melons, more carrots, and a small variety of herbs growing as well.  I guess I'll start making more of an effort at the farmers market to stock up on things I can't grow but can can as well (PEACHES! APPLES!).  I'll see about filling every available empty space with spinach and a little lettuce, so I can add that to my future food as well.  Maybe I'm just more of a disgruntled ant, not satisfied with the pile of food stored for the winter. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


The short version:  a meatmuffin is a mini-meatloaf made in muffin cups rather than a full sized loaf pan.  My kids don't like meatloaf, but my husband and I do, so this is a great way to keep everyone happy!  Plus, as an added bonus, I realized that I could slip in some frozen homemade tomato soup I made last year that we didn't like in them, so it wouldn't go to waste.  Yay!  I was wondering what I was going to do with that! 

There are other advantages to meatmuffins, even if you don't have old tomato soup lurking in your freezer looking for a use.  These things take a lot less time to cook, so the are great if you need to get dinner on the table more quickly or don't want the oven on very long to keep it from heating up the house.  Not only that, but they are great for portion control if you are on a diet, or just are trying to limit your meat consumption. 

The limited meat consumption was a huge part of why I decided to make these last night.  I've been wanting meatloaf, but we are almost out of ground venison, so I need to be using it sparingly.  If I made a regular meatloaf, I would have used at least a whole pound and we probably would have eaten it all.  I made a half batch of this recipe last night (turned the other half into freezer meatballs), and we ate a total of 10 of them, so there are still a couple in the freezer for next time I want meatloaf or to send with my husband for part of a lunch at work.

1 1/2 lbs ground meat
2/3 cup dry oats
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 eggs
2/3 cup condensed tomato soup

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  If using a lower fat meat such as venison, grease the bottom of 24 muffin cups.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  You may need to use your hands to thoroughly mix (be sure to take of any rings and wash your hands really well and/or wear gloves.  Yuck!).  Fill muffin cups approximately 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly brown on the outside and no longer pink in the middle.   Top with ketchup if desired.

Unused meatmuffins may be frozen in a freezer safe container or bag.  To reheat, thaw completely then bake at 350 degrees for 10-20 minutes until heated through.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Misadventures of a Tween's Birthday Party

When thrifty goes wrong
A month ago, when we planned my oldest son's 12th birthday party and it was in the upper 80s or lower 90s everyday with nary a drop of rain to be seen for days or weeks at a time, having it in the open air at a county park that featured both a splash pad and a lifeguard manned lake for swimming seemed like a brilliant idea.  It was a free location and the kids would have lots of fun things to do, not to mention it wouldn't require thoroughly cleaning the house before and after the party.  This past week, when they started forecasting high temperatures in the lower to mid-70s for yesterday, with the increasing chance of rain as the week went on, it seemed less brilliant.

I didn't really have the option to change location, since we'd invited my son's entire baseball team that had finished up the season the month before (which is why we planned it when we did) and I didn't have contact information to let them know of the change of plans and, in this day and age of no one RSVPing, it was impossible to tell who, if anyone would be coming.  Instead, I just monitored the hourly forecast nearly obsessively for the days leading up to the party and hoped for the best.  As we were loading up the minivan, getting ready to go, it was sprinkling, but faith and the weather map on my husband's cell phone seemed to indicate we'd be okay. 

The free-to-me birthday cake my mom made for the party
When we got there, the splash pad was off and there was no lifeguard down at the lake.  On the plus side, the park was nearly deserted (other than the pavilions that would have protected us from the rain.  Those had been reserved by family reunions and prayer groups and were in full use.) so we were able to grab as many tables as we liked right between the splash pad and the building that housed the restrooms, changing rooms, and a snack bar (and a storm shelter, but I was pretending that there was no chance we'd be needing that) ideal location.  Shortly after we got there, the boys asked the staff mulling around if they could go in the lake (despite it being in the upper 60s.  Silly boys!) and the obliged by sending the necessary staff to open it up.  Later, when they wanted to play in the splash pad, they turned it on for them.  Meanwhile, the adults who weren't supervising the children at the lake (my husband and dad), or happily munching on the black bean and corn salsa (me), started to play the board games we brought as an alternative activity in case of rain in an attempt to thwart the weather maxim that whatever weather you are not prepared for, that's what you'll get.  I don't know if that is a real saying, but it definitely should be.

As the rousing game of Scrabble was wrapping up and the boys started indicating a desire for present time, dark clouds started rolling in.  We weren't going to make it after all.  I started letting people know that all non-essential items probably should be moved to the car and anything we still needed should be moved under the cover of the snack bar and my husband checked his phone's weather map and pronounced we had about 10 minutes before we got rained on. 

We spread blankets on the floor of the covered area and set up a picnic and present area.  The staff was very accommodating, going around our improvised party area to do their tasks (we made sure we wouldn't be too much in the way when we set stuff up) and everyone happily ate their cake and ice cream.  My son was happy with his gifts and he and his friend had a blast running around in the rain after present time.

I guess even though it wasn't the ideal party, it was fun and memorable.  After all, when the birthday boy has this expression on his face for most of the party, it was a good one:

My son's friend and my son, sporting his new official Indiana Jones hat

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Use-it-up Harvest Spaghetti Sauce

I'm starting to think I'd do all right on the show MasterChef, especially on those Mystery Box Challenges, since apparently I face the basically the same thing at home on a fairly regular basis!  Just the other day, I had a half pound of ground venison that needed to be used up, an abundance of summer squash, an assortment of other garden veggies, and kids that wanted spaghetti for dinner.  I came up with a super hearty and delicious spaghetti sauce that it barely needed the spaghetti to make it a meal!  I only ended up using half the box of spaghetti to feed the whole family!  Keeping that in mind, using garden veggies, homemade tomato sauce, and venison my father-in-law gave us (we ran out of what my husband got.  Guess I need to send him out more to hunt this year!), this whole meal cost under $1 to feed the whole family!

Another nice thing about this meal is that it is super quick!  Start it when you start your water to boil for the pasta and by the time the pasta is ready to serve, so is the sauce! 

Harvest Spaghetti Sauce
1/2 lb ground meat
1 small onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 small summer squash, pared (if desired), quartered and sliced
2 cups plain tomato sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tomato, chopped

Brown ground meat with onion and green pepper.  Add summer squash and saute until squash just begins to soften.  Add tomato sauce, garlic, basil, oregano, and tomato.  Simmer about 10 minutes.  Serve on pasta, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.