Friday, September 30, 2011

Freeing Your Home from Fruit Flies

The downside of all this wonderful fresh food the house is inundated with this time of year (for a little longer anyway--they are now saying we will likely have a hard freeze Sunday morning!) is that all that lovely fruit draws fruit flies.  Ugh.  I hate those little buggers!  Fortunately, I know how to get rid of them cheaply, effectively, and non-toxicly (I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again:  one of my favorite things about having my own blog is that I can make up words and no editor stands in the way of publishing them.  Haha!).

The first thing you want to do is clean house.  Double ugh, I know.  But, especially if you have kids, you won't know for sure that one of the things that the pesky buggers are getting so excited about was the rotting pear in the couch cushions or the plum hidden in a end table cabinet (not that I'm speaking from experience, of course.  *snort*) unless you do a thorough job cleaning out all possible places they could be hiding.

Now they'll be stuck hanging around more obvious places like around a sink full of dishes or a trash can that needs emptying.  You'll want to take care of those too.  Make sure the dishes get done daily (no excuses!) and, ideally, as soon as they are dirtied.  Designate one trash can in the house as available for anything with any sort of food traces on it and take that out the most frequently--ideally every day.  If you are like our family, you may find it hard to justify that tiny bit of trash going out every day (our family of 5-6 usually only has 1 to 2 large trash bags a week to put out for the garbage collector), so you might want to make this designated trash area a super small trash can and use plastic shopping bags for liners.  These tiny bags can then be taken out daily with no guilt and put in a larger bag for the garbage collector at the end of the week if there is a limit on how many bags you can put to the curb.

The next phase of your attack is a two-prong assault.  You'll want to use a vacuum cleaner to suck up any flies you still see flitting about.  Make sure you change your vacuum bag after each use so they can't breed in the bag.  Seriously, ew!  Plus, you'll want to change the bag outside so they can't escape and be free to fly around your house again.  If you have a water trap vacuum like a Rainbow, that's not a concern though, since they are dead in the water as soon as you suck them up.
My ugly yet effective fruit fly trap

After your aerial attack with the vacuum, you'll want to set a trap for anything that remains, because you know you didn't get them all!  You can make a trap by putting 3 parts of water with 1 part of molasses and a pinch of active dry yeast in the bottom of a jar and putting a funnel over the top so they can get in to their yummy food of death, but they can't find their way back out.  I use a jar with that I'm not going to want any more with a paper funnel taped to it so I can throw it away (taken directly outside so we don't have any escaped prisoners) and not have to worry about them escaping back into the house.

Repeat the vacuuming step as needed whenever you see them flying around and keep up one the trash and dishes and you'll notice the population going down pretty quickly.  One day soon, you'll even realize it's been a while since you've seen any fruit flies and relax knowing that you once again have a fruit fly free home. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lemon Squares--Week #1 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

You read that right--12weeks of Christmas cookies.  This is an annual blog hop tradition, I believe to now be in its second year.  Last year, of course I didn't participate, since I didn't have a blog yet, but this year, it sounded like a ton of fun (and tasty!)!  Every Thursday, all participating bloggers are supposed to post a new cookie or other holiday treat recipe.  I then post this cute little icon to show it is part of the blog hop and to linky up at the bottom of the post so you can see what other goodies people have posted:
For the first week of this event, I decided to bake up some lemon squares.  I've been wanting some anyway, since they've been mentioned a couple times in the silly novel I'm currently reading (How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper, in case you were wondering what I'm reading.  They also mention chess squares in there quite a bit, which is apparently some sort of southern treat, but I don't know what they are really so reading about them didn't make me crave them.  Lemon squares I'm very familiar with!).

Lemon Squares
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix flour, butter, and powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Press into an ungreased 8x8 or 9x9 pan.  Build up 1/2 inch edges on the sides.  Bake 20 minutes.  Beat remaining ingredients until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Pour onto hot crust.  Bake about 25 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched lightly on the center.  Cool completely & sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Cut into 1 1/2 squares.

Here's what everyone else is baking for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Winding Down--A Trailer Park Homestead update

Things are definitely winding down for the year at the Trailer Park Homestead.  I processed the last of the free pears from the house up the street the other day, my cucumbers are almost all done, and I'm probably going to lose the area that used to be the cornfield in the next few days as the contractors step up work on the garages.  Not to mention that many of the other plants keep looking sadder and sadder and the forecast for the next few days shows a couple more nights dipping into the 30s, so the chance of losing even more plants goes up even more.  Here's what's going on at the Trailer Park Homestead in pictures:
Looks like I might end up having a homegrown jack-o-lantern after all!  I never got around to trying a green pumpkin pie as someone suggested for my unripe pumpkin de-vined by the evil squash vine borers, but it is ripening sans vine, so it's all good I guess.  Too bad that's my only pumpkin and there are 3 littles (plus a hubby) that are going to want to carve pumpkins!
Using sunflower stalks to hold up the peas really didn't work well at all.  The fall winds and rains kept knocking it over so I finally gave up.  It probably would work if I buried the bottoms, but that would be something to try next year.
I was very glad to see that some of the bean pods are starting to look leathery, so my chances of getting some seed in before the contractors come rolling in is pretty good.

On the other hand, I don't think these little watermelon just outside the garage have much of a chance to make it to maturity.  I'm not going to give up on it until I know for sure though.
The canning continues as I find more things I can can!
I forgot to include my canning totals for last week in my last Trailer Park Homestead update, so my two week canning total was: 2 quarts of dill pickles, 7 1/2 quarts of salsa, 13 quarts of pears (some actually in pints, as seen above, but that was the total amount), 7 quarts of tomatoes, and 4 jars of ground cherry jam.  Yum!  In addition, my husband got a doe during Michigan's early doe season, so we have a substantial quantity of meat now.  I'm definitely not feeling so much like a grasshopper anymore!  I don't know what I'll be able to find at the farmers market this week (apples were more than I wanted to pay last week, or I'd probably be saucing up a storm by now), but I definitely will be taking what I can put up into consideration with my purchasing, even as my stuff to put up from my own garden dries up.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Child-friendly Homegrown Corn Dogs

Okay, the hot dogs weren't actually homegrown, but the cornmeal in them sure was!  My mom came over last week with her Vitamix and ground some of my green dent corn, that super tall corn that caused such a stir a while back, for corn meal.  So I took some of that great, super healthy organically grown corn...and fried it.  I mixed it into a batter, dipped quartered hot dogs into it and fried it into homemade, partially homegrown (nitrate free, turkey) corn dogs!  My husband took one bite and declared them to taste like corn dogs, so they were officially a success!  Even though they just "taste like corn dogs", these were a lot healthier than anything I've seen sold in a store since, like I mentioned, they contained organic ingredients, better quality wieners, and I even slipped in a little extra whole grains with no one being any the wiser.  Yes, they are still fried, so I'm not going to say they are healthy but it is a definite improvement.  Plus, they are a lot cheaper than the ones my husband would occasionally buy at the store, which are about $8 for a box of 16.  I got the hot dogs on sale for less than $2 a package of 8, and the cost of the other ingredients are fairly minimal, so they are almost half the cost! 
Unfortunately, my sloppy breading technique did not make for cute corn dogs, but here is a couple cute kids with mouthfuls of them!  As you can see, I balanced the fried corn dogs (and purple french fries) with raw, fresh vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes to be exact, from the garden.
Another plus on my corn dogs was that I quartered the hot dogs lengthwise for the safety of the children.  I'm sure you are aware that small children are at enough of a choking risk from hot dogs that many think there should be a warning label on the package.  If you buy premade corn dogs, you can quarter the whole thing after it is cooked, but what fun is that for the kids?  I cut mine before breading them, so each one was safer, but still breaded on all sides!

Corn Dogs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup corn meal
4 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
hot dogs
oil for frying

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Stir in eggs and milk and mix until lump free.  Quarter hot dogs lengthwise, if desired.  Dip hot dogs into batter to coat.  Deep fry in hot oil until light brown. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Homemade Pop Tarts

I decided to try some of these last night when I had a bit of leftover pie crust dough from the chicken pot pie.  I used ground cherry jam, since that's what was in the fridge--plus my 6 year old had been refusing to try the ground cherry jam, but I figured he wouldn't be able to resist pop-tarts!  Turns out I was right and he loved it.  Plus, we all loved the pop tarts.

Since I knew that these wouldn't last long enough to attempt to stick in a toaster (I wouldn't put them in a toaster anyway, since I'd be too paranoid that the jam would drip out and start a fire, but that's just me.  Seems like if they are pop tarts you should be able to toast them), I just made them round, since that was the most convenient cutter shape for me to grab and I didn't want to freestyle cut rectangles with a knife, knowing full well that I would never manage to make them the same size and shape that way!

This time, we didn't let them cool long enough to frost, but it would be easy to make a quick glaze of powdered sugar with just enough milk to make it spreadable to frost them in the future.


pie crust
powdered sugar (optional)
milk (optional)

Preheat oven to 450.  Roll out pie crust and cut into desired shapes.  Dollop about a teaspoon of jam on half of the shapes.  Cover jam with the shapes that are left and press edges together to seal.  Place on baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until light golden brown.  Cool completely before frosting.  To frost, put some powdered sugar in a small bowl and add just enough milk to make spreadable.  Let frosting set before serving.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie

This cool weather we've been having has been giving me a serious hankering for pot pie. Fortunately, I know how to make them!
 Of course, my pot pies aren't this pretty.  My mom actually made this one about a year and a half ago and it looked so nice, I took a picture of it even though I didn't make it.   Mine might not look so lovely, but they sure are tasty!

Oh, and even though I make these as chicken pot pies, it can just as easily be made with turkey meat and you can easily omit the chicken stock and flour and just use leftover gravy, thinking ahead a bit to Thanksgiving and the OMG-what-do-I-with-all-these-leftovers syndrome that some people (not me!) seem to face.

Chicken Pot Pie

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cold butter
1/2 cup cold water
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced
1/3 cup fresh parsley
1 tsp dried oregano 
salt & pepper to tast
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp butter
1 cup cooked chicken, diced
3 tbsp all-purpose flour

Combine 2 1/2 cups flour and 1/2 tsp salt in a small bowl.  Cut in 1 cup butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Drizzle in water and mix together until it is forms a dough.  Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large saucepan.  Add onion, carrots, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables soften.  Add chicken stock and potatoes.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes.

In a medium skillet, melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter.  Add chicken and remaining flour.  Add milk and heat through.  Stir chicken mixture into the vegetable mixture; cook until thickened.  

Remove pie crust dough from refrigerator and divide in half.  Roll out half the dough and press into a pie pan.  Pour filling mixture into pie pan.  Roll out the other half of dough to form top crust and place on top of the filling.  Press together edges and cut a few slits in the top crust to let out steam.  Bake for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

LAST Homestead Happenings Linky of 2011--What's going on at YOUR place?

I've been keeping people informed with what's going on at the Trailer Park Homestead since it was first created and people always tell me how inspiring it is to see what I'm doing.  I figure if others share what they are doing on their homestead or garden, that should crank the inspiration up another notch or two.  Hence this linky.

This is the last linky of 2011.  If there is enough interest, I may choose to resume the feature in the spring.

Homestead Happenings linky guidelines:

1. Please provide a link back to this post in your post. Or if you're like me and don't care to add links into the post, grab either my main button from my sidebar or the Homestead Happenings button below (or both if you want! I won't stop you!) and stick it in your sidebar to show you were here.

2. Please link to a specific post in your blog, not your blog’s home page.

3. If you link a recipe, please use real foods that mostly can be actually grown or made on a homestaed and avoid highly processed ingredients.

4. I reserve the right to remove any posts that I deem inappropriate.

5. If you don’t have a blog, please leave a comment to share what what's been happening on your homestead or in your garden this week.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

My Greatest Weakness

I have a confession to make.  I'm not perfect.  Nope, not superwoman, not supermom.  In fact, I'm only human. 

My biggest flaw is that I lack the superpower to stretch time.  I do in fact only have 24 hours in the day, without exception.  I even have to waste some of that time sleeping and, upon occasion, going to the bathroom (although that is a speedy process.  Somehow, going to the bathroom is a guaranteed way to start children screaming in the other room or draw them to me.  No privacy for Mom!).

With these ridiculous time constraints, it is a sad fact that I don't get everything done.  With kids (who don't even go off to school to give me a "break" to get more done), homeschooling, taking the kids to dance or soccer or whatever, taking care of the garden, putting up stuff for the winter, taking care of the husband, dishes, laundry, and routine cleaning (oh, and there is that little blog thing I do), each day's to-do list frequently spills over into the next day.  I have to have priorities.

Obviously, the kids come first.  I have to make sure they have clothes and food daily, make sure they get where they need to go, and on top of that I'm legally required to see that they get some sort of education (well, the 6 year old I'm legally required to.  The younger ones are more of a moral obligation at this point). 

Next, I need to take care of the garden and the processing of food.  Funny thing about real food--it rots.  If you don't get to it in time, it goes bad.  It isn't like those McDonald's burgers or Twinkies that will wait for years for you to get around to doing something with them and even then would probably still be okay.  Nope.  With fresh food, you have a matter of days before you are S.O.L. if you haven't done something with it by then.  That makes this time of year super busy for me.  Being in Michigan, the growing season is almost completely over.  I have maybe another month before the fresh food is gone.  Completely gone.  Well, unless I do something drastic like set up a garden with some grow lights and space heater in the garage or something (which I'm actually considering).  So right now, for the next few weeks, I am swamped, constantly trying to defeat the evil hunger monsters, or at least poor-quality-food-we-had-to-buy-at-the-store monsters.  Yesterday, I put up 7 more quarts of pears and need to go back to the "pear place" as my son calls it today to see if more have dropped.  I also put up 7 quarts of tomatoes, possibly the last tomatoes I'll get to can (plain, anyway) for the year.  I didn't get around to the apple-tomato salsa I wanted to make or the ground cherry jam I needed to do.  Those got bumped onto today's to-do list as well (silly soccer practice seriously cut into my canning time!). 

So now what I had been planning for the day, getting the house cleaned up and get caught up on folding laundry, got pushed back again.  That's been happening a lot lately.  Unlike the kids and the fresh food I need to see about storing, clutter keeps.  Unfortunately.  No matter how much I stall on doing it, it is always there waiting.  Not only that, but it gets worse.  With three little ones, boy does it get worse!  Even in the winter, when I have far more time to clean, I can clean one room, start working in another, go back to the first room to put something away, and discover that it looks like I never did it in the first place!

Some of the other moms at my son's soccer practice were discussing how they, without there gardens and with much older children that don't puke toys everywhere, were thinking about getting a cleaning service to come in once a week or so, to do all those little things that they don't get around to.  I wish I had that option.  Life would be much less frustrating and downright depressing if I had a little help like that.  They were talking about what a great deal it would be for them to do this and it's "only" about $60 a time they come out.  I deflated when I heard that.  There is no way I could justify that in my budget.  Sometimes it sucks being thrifty.

Well, like I said, the kids and the food won't keep, but the messes will, so I guess I'll just keep plugging away and get things done when I can.  Winter will be here to let me catch up soon enough.  I guess.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Easy Cinnamon Applesauce

Night before last, I was surprised by a wall post by a friend on my personal Facebook page that said, "the zucchini fairy strikes again."  I sprinted from my bedroom, where I'd been working on my computer, to the front door, where I'd left an offering of pears for the zucchini fairy a few days prior.  My kids thought I was nuts as I swung open the door until they saw the bag that had mysteriously appeared there.  I swept up the bag and took it to the table to examine the contents and discovered, to my delight, apples!  Yay for the zucchini fairy!

One of my favorite things to do with apples is make applesauce.  When the kids are left loose in the house with whole apples, we end up with a lot of waste, since the kids will raid the fridge for them when I'm not looking and I'll find nasty old partially eaten apples all over the house every time I clean.  With applesauce, they usually need help to get it, so there is more portion control and a lot less waste.  Plus it is tasty as heck!  It's also surprising easy to make.


Peel (some recipes say the peeling is optional, but my children tell me it is not) and core apples.  Cut into slices or chunks.  Put in a large pot with a little water, about 1 1/2 cups per 5 pounds of apples.  Cook until tender.  Mash with a potato masher until desired consistency.  Stir in cinnamon to taste.  Ladle hot applesauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace (do NOT overfill.  Cleaning the canner after a jar's top pops off is no fun).  Adjust 2 piece caps and process in water bath canner for 20 minutes.  May also be frozen, if preferred.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thinking About Giving Up--A Trailer Park Homestead update

Not permanently, of course, but I am giving up on a lot of my plants for the year.  I put a couple of the formerly controversial beds to rest yesterday by pulling out the remaining cucumber and watermelon plants.  They didn't have any flowers or fruit on them, so I figured they didn't have time before the weather declared me done to go from no flowers to edible yummies.  I'll probably go around to check out the other plants in the next few days to see if others could go as well.  I'm trying to spread out my tidying up of the yard so I'm not pounded by doing it all at once, probably when the weather is icky enough that I don't want to!  I decided to let the remaining beans dry out for use as seed as well, since I don't know how much longer I have until the contractor will need them pulled to put the floor in the garage, but it doesn't seem like I probably have much time left and I don't want to risk not having seed for next year by waiting too long.

In addition to intentional plant killing, a lot of my plants aren't doing so well on their own.  The frost Friday didn't get them, but fungal infections and underwatering may have.
Leaf spot and the removal of infected areas of the plants has left my 'maters looking sad.
Fortunately, it isn't all doom and gloom (yet.  That's coming soon though!).  The fall garden is still going strong. 
The sunflower pea/bean teepee idea seems to work fairly well as far as I've taken it so far.  I decided to just try one for right now on the mini pea patch up front and, if that works well, I'll expand to all over the yard, where ever I have peas or beans next year.  I think it would work better if I put the teepee in first so I don't have to worry about the plants right there, rather than retroactively shoving it into the ground like I did here.
Toward the back of the yard, it looks like I could stand to start harvesting some spinach again!  Yay!  Been a while since I've had any of that!

The carrots in the back raised bed are going nuts!  They are soooo cute!  It looks kind of like a fuzzy green afro!  Love it!  I may try to keep this area going into the winter, with all its cold hearty plants.

Here's something else we haven't had in a while that has reentered the snacking in the yard rotation:  snap peas!  I'm especially proud of these since I didn't buy these seeds; they are ones I saved from the spring crop!  I didn't plant a lot, so I don't know that I'll be able to freeze any, or at least not a lot, but I wanted to make sure I had plenty of seed for next year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fun and Functional Kids' Rooms

I've never met a kid who cared if all the bedding and other accessories in their room matched.  I've met a lot of kids, though, that think it would be awesome to have a permanent fort in their room.  What kid can pass up a fort? 
This mismatched not-mess is my daughter's bed.  She has the bottom bunk on a bunkbed that we got used for $30 and to make up for it being the bottom bunk, since all kids seem to want the top bunk, I made it special by hanging curtains we don't need anymore and a large piece of fleece to form the long wall of the fort.  The head of the bed is left open, just a little way away from wall to be the official way in and out, and the foot of the bed has a fleece throw to block it from the world.  I haven't decided whether I'm going to just safety pin or sew these in place, but either way, this is supposed to be a permanent configuration to give her a special, private spot in the world.

So that's the fun part; the practical part is the way I have toys arranged in there.  With 4 kids, if everyone had a complete set of privately owned toys, we would probably be completely buried in toys!  As it is, most of the toys are communally shared between all of them.  This helps cut down on clutter and fights, since it eliminates a lot of the "it's mine" nonsense (of course, we still get a lot of "I had it first!"s, but I have yet to figure out a way to prevent that one).
In other thrifty decorating ideas:  my mom made those tiger curtains for the kids from a throw blanket she found at a thrift shop.  Cool, huh?  Love how they kind of glow with the sunlight coming through them!
To keep the kids' toys organized in their room, I have a large utility shelf with a combination of milk crates (love me some Freecycle!) and small storage tubs.  The milk crates contain wooden blocks, wooden train pieces, puppets, play food, and dress up things.  The tubs store smaller things, like cars, dinosaurs, and Fisher Price Little People.  I put the heaviest stuff on the bottom to weigh it down and because they are favorite toys and put the dress up stuff all the way on top since they are the most likely to not be cleaned up when they are done.  With a vertical storage system like this, it encourages (in theory anyway) toys being picked up before something else is gotten out.  Plus, it discourages random strewing of toys everywhere in the search of a certain toy since they can easily see exactly where the toy they want is.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Easy Toast Pizza--dinner the kids can get themselves (almost)

With my brave and mighty hunter husband off for the day to get us some meat (which he did!  Yay!), I didn't really feel like making a big meal for me and the kids.  As a matter of fact, after spending most of the day cleaning house, I didn't much feel like cooking at all!  A lot of families would dart out for some fast food or order something in, but not us!  Instead, the kids got to have one of their favorites:  pizza they made themselves!

Like I said, I didn't feel like cooking, so I didn't make actual pizza crusts for their pizzas.  Toast works fine.  Toasted English muffins or plain bagels would work as well, but we didn't have any of those, so regular toasted bread it was.  The adult in charge just needs to preheat the oven to 350, toast the bread or other "crust", and set out the pizza fixings.  The kids can then spoon on a little sauce, maybe sprinkle on some oregano, basil, and garlic powder if the sauce is unseasoned like mine, and top with shredded mozzarella and any other pizza toppings they'd like while the "crusts" rest on the cookie sheet they'll be baked on.  When they are done, stick the pizzas in the oven for 8-10 minutes.  That's it!  Easy-peasy, fun enough to be a party idea, and cheap to boot!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unstuffed Pepper Casserole

I love stuffed peppers. The rest of my family does not. They like the filling alright, which is also my favorite part, but don't want the peppers. So why not have the best of both worlds? This casserole is mostly filling for stuffed peppers, but it doesn't use as many peppers so everyone likes it better...and it takes a lot less time to make!

Using venison, homemade soup or sauce, and and homegrown veggies, this meal costs under $3 to feed my family!  So simple, but so yummy and so cheap!
Unstuffed Pepper Casserole
1/2 lb ground meat
1 onion, diced
3 cups cooked rice
approx 20oz tomato sauce or tomato soup, divided
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Brown ground meat with onion.  In a 2-quart casserole dish, combine rice, about half the tomato sauce/soup, garlic, paprika, and salt.  Stir in cooked meat mixture and green peppers.  Top with remaining soup/sauce and sprinkle Cheddar cheese on top.  Bake for 30 minutes.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Homestead Happenings Linky--What's going on at YOUR place?

I've been keeping people informed with what's going on at the Trailer Park Homestead since it was first created and people always tell me how inspiring it is to see what I'm doing.  I figure if others share what they are doing on their homestead or garden, that should crank the inspiration up another notch or two.  Hence this linky.

Homestead Happenings linky guidelines:

1. Please provide a link back to this post in your post. Or if you're like me and don't care to add links into the post, grab either my main button from my sidebar or the Homestead Happenings button below (or both if you want! I won't stop you!) and stick it in your sidebar to show you were here.

2. Please link to a specific post in your blog, not your blog’s home page.

3. If you link a recipe, please use real foods that mostly can be actually grown or made on a homestaed and avoid highly processed ingredients.

4. I reserve the right to remove any posts that I deem inappropriate.

5. If you don’t have a blog, please leave a comment to share what what's been happening on your homestead or in your garden this week.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Salsas

It was the best of tomatoes, it was the worst of tomatoes....okay, not really.  I just couldn't resist!

Yesterday, I asked people on my Facebook page for good tomato salsa recipes.  I quickly noticed there seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to making salsa--those that advocate chopping up everything into little, tasty bits and those that think it should just be thrown in a blender or food processor after being cut into large chunks.  I decided to try both, since I'd never made tomato salsa before, so I wasn't sure what camp I was in.

For the first batch, I used something resembling an actual recipe (found below).  It was an apple-tomato salsa.  I figured it would appeal to the same tastebuds that find my favorite peach salsa wonderful.  For the second batch, I just peeled my remaining tomatoes, removed the seeds and pulp, removed the seeds from my assorted peppers, peeled an onion, and threw them all into a blender along with my chosen seasonings (honey, apple cider vinegar, garlic, cumin, red pepper, sea salt, and oregano, if I remember right).

If the only thing I was looking at was level of effort required, the second salsa would definitely be a winner, since it was a lot easier just to throw things in the blender and let it do the work.  If effort was how I made such decisions, however, I wouldn't have even needed an experiment like this though, since I'd just do the easiest thing of all and not make salsa at all, just go to the store and buy it like "normal" people.

The second thing I noticed was visual appeal.  When I was pouring the second salsa out of the blender, it looked more like vomit than salsa.  I decided to cook it for 10 minutes before canning, since that seemed to be the thing to do, based on the zillions of salsa recipes I looked at before tackling my own salsa experiments.  After cooking, it did seem a lot more like salsa and less nasty, but the first batch was still prettier. 

Next, I tasted both of them.  Since they weren't the same recipe, I wasn't looking at overall flavor, but they were both delicious.  I was just interested in texture and eating experience for this test.  I was still undecided after this.  The first, chunky salsa was more fun for my mouth since it had different flavors with every bite.  The second clung to the chip better, so that was a plus as well.

After my experiment, I decided I don't have a clear preference.  It really depends on the type of flavor experience I'm looking for.  With just a generic tomato and pepper based salsa, the blending method is fine, since it is a lot less work and doesn't adversely affect the finished product.  For most salsas I really enjoy, like the apple-tomato salsa, the peach salsa that I still have to buy since I still don't have a recipe for it, or my black bean and corn salsa, the chopping method is necessary to give it that multi-flavored salsa experience that I like so much.

Apple-Tomato Salsa

3 cups tomatoes, peeled, diced, seeds and pulp removed
3 cups apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 bell pepper, seeds removed and diced
2 chili peppers, seeds removed and diced
2 hot peppers, seeds removed and diced
Don't know what it is, but this is what I used for "hot pepper"
1 red onion, diced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Boil and stir 10 minutes.  Ladle into hot canning jars.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

We Be Jammin'

That is, of course, a royal "we", since my jam session was a solitary endeavor.  Still, I managed to churn out three kinds of jam in one day, so I'm pretty proud of myself. 

The raspberry and blueberry jam recipes are one and the same.  It also works for blackberries, boysenberries, dewberries, gooseberries, loganberries, and youngberries.  I actually wouldn't be surprised if it worked for ground cherries as well, since they are apparently naturally high in pectin, without any additional pectin added, but I couldn't for the life of me find a pectin-free ground cherry recipe to compare it to and didn't feel like experimenting, so I used a tried and true recipe with added stuff.  Maybe at some point I'll play around searching for a pectin-free (and therefore a lot cheaper!) ground cherry jam recipe, but probably not this year, especially since I don't even know for sure that my ground cherry plants survived the night since there was a chance of frost and I don't know if my covering of them was sufficient!  In the meantime, here are both the recipes I used for my jam session this week.

Berry Jam
 Adapted from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

9 cups crushed berries
5 cups sugar

Combine berries and sugar in a large pan.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the boiling jam drips off a cool, metal spoon dipped into it in a single flake or sheet.  (If you prefer perfect measurements, find out the exact boiling point for your elevation and add 8 degrees F to it.  That is the "gelling point".)  Remove from heat.  Ladle jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Put on two-piece caps and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Ground Cherry Jam
 Adapted from some random sites on the internet.  Disappointingly, the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving does not seem to mention ground cherries anywhere within it.

3 cups ground cherries, removed from husks
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
3 cups sugar

Wash ground cherries.  Combine fruit, lemon juice, water, and pectin in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  When ground cherries begin to burst, mash them well.   Add sugar.  Return to boil and boil an additional 1 minute.  Ladle into hot jars.  Put on two-piece caps and process in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The First Frost Is A'coming--A Trailer Park Homestead update

That's right!  Already it looks like we may be getting our first frost this week.  The average first frost for my area is October 3, but if the cold spring wasn't enough, it looks like we're going to be nailed with an early frost as well.  Joy.

I've had my work cut out for me in preparation for the possibility of frost, both tomorrow morning and Friday:
I pulled all the corn!  This serves several purposes:  it makes it possible to cover the watermelon and cucumbers that were growing among and up the corn, it will make it easier and faster to get tarps to and from the garage to where they are needed in the yard/garden, and makes it less creepier to get the tarps out after dark if I forget or don't get a chance to get them out until late!
I moved the tomatoes that were in the middle of the yard up next to their buddies on the front patio area.  The heat from the patio should help keep them happier on non-frosty-but-still-cold nights and having them all together will make it easier to cover them on potentially frosty nights.

This front yard area, full of watermelon and cucumber plants is another area of concern.  I'll probably move the vines around on the evenings before frosts to make them more compact and cover them with tarps or blankets to protect them.
While playing in the garden, I picked a few things to process too.  I see future pickles, salsa, and cornmeal here, as well as more beans to freeze.
Amid the news of possible frost, I do have a symbol of hope--I made a rainbow:
Red: raspberry jam, orange: ground cherry jam, yellow: applesauce, green: dill pickles, blue/violet: blueberry jam
I put up over thirty jars of food of assorted sizes this week, including three kinds of jam, two quarts of applesauce, five quarts of dill pickles, and 10 quarts of chicken stock (my first pressure canning experience, in case you missed the liveblogging-type event on Facebook), plus I froze four baggies of broccoli for use in my favorite soup, quiche, or hot pocket sandwiches.  So even though the frost may be coming, I'm getting ready for it to be here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Twelve Must-Have Kitchen Accessories

 As I frantically try to get the garden ready for the possibility of frost Friday morning, while canning everything that holds still long enough to stick in a jar and trying (and usually failing) to keep up on my usual daily and weekly homemaking chores of keeping up the house, staying on top of laundry and dishes, making sure everyone eats and eats well, homeschooling, and gets to where they need to go for dance classes and soccer practices *takes deep breath* I present to you another guest blog post.  This one is by my mom, also known as the blogger at Lawnless Trials Goes Homesteading.  You can find her on Facebook as well.  Oh, and Mom?  I don't have #2 anymore (mine broke), #10 (other than what is on the microwave and technically I don't own that since it is part of the rental property), or #12.  I know you know when my birthday is! *wink*

We all have favorite small kitchen aides. For me, there was that small paring knife. Using it was so ingrained that I never considered how inadequate it was for some of the jobs it performed. I wore that blade down so much that I eventually had to throw it away. For years, I made cookies according to the recipe: "drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased cookie sheet." When I opened a home-canned jar, I continued to use the two-piece lid to keep the contents fresh. I used two knives to cut shortening into the flour for biscuits and pie crust. Sometimes, these were acts of frugality; more often, I simple didn't know any better.
Top left, counter clockwise: plastic lid, pump sprayer, pastry cutter, wire whisk, chef's knife, small scoop, needle-nosed pliers, can opener, paper scissors, kitchen shears, timer, four tablespoon measure, scale.

Now I do, and I'd like to share this list of a dozen small accessories that make kitchen chores so much easier.

1. Plastic screw-on lids for mason jars. So many uses. For example, use on home-canned jars after you've opened them, and for sealing jars of dried herbs.

2. Pump sprayer for oil. Mine contains olive oil, and I use it instead of a store-bought non-stick spray.

3. Pastry cutter. The secret to light baking-powder biscuits and flaky pie crust.

4. Wire whisk. This works so much better than a spoon!

5. Chef's knife. My husband is always lecturing me about using the right tool for the job. This is just as important in the kitchen as for the handyman. I can't believe how much faster and easier cutting goes with this wonderful tool.

6. Small scoop. Baking cookies is a number one requirement in my grandmother job description book. I like using this scoop. (So do the grandkids.) It can also serve to make small meatballs and, probably, watermelon or other fruit scoops.

7. Needle-nosed pliers. I use these to remove plastic rings from bottles before they go into the recycling bin, and to open "easy-open" lids that I couldn't otherwise get a hold of.

8. Manual can opener. I've never met an electric can opener that worked well and lasted long enough to justify its cost. A good manual works just as fast, without the noise or electricity. As a matter of fact, it's a good idea to have one in the kitchen and another with your emergency supplies.

9. Scissors. Two of them. One pair of good kitchen shears for cutting meat and herbs, for instance, and a second pair for cutting any sort of packaging.

10. A Timer. I like one that you set once, press a button when it rings, and it resets for the same time. This is so helpful when I'm blanching gallons of something at the rate of two cups to a batch. I have to admit it can get confusing in my kitchen when this little timer plus the timers on the stove and microwave are all working at the same time.

11. Four Tablespoon Liquid Measure. The biggest problem with this little gem is that I use it so often that I forget where I put it last and have trouble finding it for the next task. I measure two tablespoons for lemon juice for a large glass of lemonade, three tablespoons olive oil for pizza crust. It's especially helpful in halving recipes now that I'm cooking (mostly) for only two.

12. A Scale. Just how much is "three peppers"? I love recipes that give ingredients by weight. If a serving size is given as two ounces and 200 calories, I can measure the food. This is a great way to keep from cheating on a diet. We measure coffee grounds before grinding them fresh. I weigh the bread dough to be sure the loaves are equal in size, the pizza dough before I roll it out to make small rounds to go into the freezer, produce as it goes into freezer bags so I'll know how much I've put up, packages to be mailed, and.... And other stuff.

Could I list another dozen items that I find indispensable in the kitchen? Let's see: cutting boards in sizes to fit different tasks; measuring cups and spoons; a variety of knives suitable for a variety of job; good quality pots and pans, including stock pots; food strainers; serving spatula; cooking spatula; rolling pin; wooden spoon; corkscrew; potato masher. Gee, I think that's more than twelve, and there's no mention here of canning equipment! But that would be an entirely different list.

The twelve accessories listed above are, except for the scale and chef's knife, inexpensive. I think they're all worth having. Just wanted to share that thought with you.

So that's what my mom thinks.  What are some of your most essential kitchen accessories?