Wednesday, November 30, 2011

For Those That Like the Weekly Photo Updates, This Ought to Sum It Up....

I think the garden is officially beyond saving for the year.

X-Treme Food Stamp Challenge--the beginning of the month receipts

When discussing living on extremely limited funds for food, one of the things that frequently mentioned is buying bulk.  Well, here's the scary reality of buying bulk:  when you do, like when I bought 10 pounds of cheese the other day, that money is no longer available for anything else.  We don't get more food stamp money until December 21 and we are already down to $61.44 to last us until then.   The good news is that I think, for the most part, we are set on groceries for quite a while.

Here's what I spent that nearly $100 on and what we've gotten on WIC since I started keeping track for you on November 21:

The first receipt is for $25 in tokens at a farmers market.  I had one token worth $1 left from the previous month and used those $26 in tokens to get a quart of real, local maple syrup and a 2 pound jar of local honey.  Both of those should last quite a while.

The first batch of groceries was actually purchased by my husband based on a list I gave him, so I couldn't adjust in store for sales, etc.  Living out in the boonies like we do, that's just what has to happen sometimes.  On that trip, I had him pick up 2 bags of frozen onions (because I was going to be making meatballs for the freezer and couldn't realistically cut that many onions without having eye issues), ketchup, ice cream, tortilla chips, and I told him to get 1 case of Diet Coke for me, 2 if they were on sale, which they were.  Some would judge very harshly that I was buying pop on food stamps, but A) I gotta drink something and as much as I need to accomplish each day to keep us fed and do everything else that needs doing, something caffeinated helps and B) here in Michigan, we have a 10 cent deposit on pop (or soda as it is called some places) cans, so when I return those cans, we can buy luxury items that we otherwise couldn't toilet paper.

That same trip, I had him pick up some items on WIC.  Most stores require that WIC be a separate transaction from any other form of payment, so it is on a different receipt.  I had hom pick up some milk that I want to try to make sweetened condensed milk from to save on that, whole wheat tortillas, milk for drinking, bread (I knew I wasn't going to have a chance to make any with the holiday weekend coming up), fresh cranberries (to complement the leftovers I knew I'd have with the holiday weekend coming up), and 1/2 pound of cheddar cheese to last us until I could make it to the restaurant supply store to get a quantity of cheese that would last more than a day or two.

This week, I actually got to go shopping.  Yay!  The cashier was pretty appalled when I told her this was pretty much my groceries for the week and not just some holiday baking supplies!  I got some cheap salt (for crafts, actually), chili powder, white whole wheat flour, flaked coconut, sugar, and chocolate chips.  Yeah, I can see why someone would think that was for some fun holiday baking!  The flour is primarily for real food, like bread, crackers, and maybe some bagels.

On that same trip, on WIC, we got some eggs, some Honey Kix that the kids like to snack on, milk for the whole family to drink, and some white grape juice for the kids.

Finally, before we left civilization to head back to BFE, we stopped off at a restaurant supply store to pick up some cheese.  I had been planning to get a couple 2 pound blocks, but the price went back down on the 10 pound blocks so that it was a lot cheaper in the long haul to buy it that way.

When I was mixing up some no-knead bread dough later that night, I was shocked to discover we were darn near out of sea salt!  Fortunately, my husband had some business to attend to near stores that would actually carry sea salt, so he picked up some.

So, as you can see from the last receipt, we now only have $61.44 to last us until 12/21, barring our caseworker actually doing something.  This may not seem like much, but we already have the vast majority of groceries we need for the month, so only having $14 to spend next week to get us back where we should be when you figure we have $38 a week to budget, really isn't that huge of a deal.

Turkeyherder's pie with a side of cranberries
Yesterday was another super cheap eating day.  The morning rains urged the kids and I to sleep in, so by the time we woke up, brunch seemed more appropriate than breakfast (my husband wasn't home, but he grabbed a couple cookies to snack on while visiting his mom and didn't get to have a meal, our leftovers from brunch, until much, much later).  We enjoyed whole wheat pancakes with maple syrup and venison sausage for our meal and the kids snacked on more pancakes in the afternoon as well.  My husband brought home some tangerines (or mini-oranges or some sort of mysterious round orange citrus fruit) his mother sent back with him and the kids gobbled them up for snacks in the afternoon as well.  They also had a little cheese while waiting for dinner to be ready.  Dinner was turkeyherder's pie, to use the last of the mashed potatoes from Friday's Thanksgiving dinner, the last of the turkey that hadn't been frozen, and the last of the gravy we brought back from Friday's dinner.   I also polished off the last of the cranberries I'd cooked up to go with the leftovers (since I was the only one that really liked them) as a side with my dinner.  The veggies in the pie were all from my garden or my mom's so they were free as well.  The only part of dinner that actually cost any food stamp dollars were the approximately 1 or 2 ounces of cheese I put on top of it!  I also had a late night snack of tortilla chips with homemade apple-tomato salsa.  I'm not sure exactly when or which kids did it, but I have also discovered evidence (lid and can opener on table, jar in the sink) that certain children also helped themselves to, and devoured, a 1/2 pint jar of homemade applesauce.

As far as beverages go, my husband only drank water, either from the tap or bottled water his mom had given him, I had 3 cans of Diet Coke, 2 of the kids had juice with dinner, the other kid and I had milk with dinner, and 2 of the kids had a little milk at bedtime.  Anyone that was thirsty the rest of the day had tap water (and I don't know who or when, because I was only guarding the refrigerator to see what came out of it, not the sinks).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The X-Treme Food Stamp Challenge--Introduction

I've seen a fair number of "food stamp challenges" out there.  Some are by well-meaning bloggers and usually supposed to last a month, but some quit part way through because it is "too hard" and so their health suffers (a notable exception is Michael Nolan's challenge, in which he stuck with it even despite personal circumstances that would make a lesser person quit).  Some are by politicians for a day, weekend, or week, either as a publicity stunt or in an effort to bring awareness to how underfunded the food stamp program, or as it is more technically called SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) is.  I thought it would be fun interesting to share my family's real life challenge of living on food stamps.

Every challenge I've seen is based on the "average" amount food stamp recipients supposedly receive, or about $100 per person per month.  This is why I call my challenge the X-Treme (purposely misspelled, thinking about how extreme sports sometimes spell it like that to seem more awesome) Food Stamp Challenge.  Mine is based on real numbers, the numbers my family actually receives in assistance.  We get $161 a month right now to feed our family of 5, which is actually 6 people when my oldest son is here 1/3 of the year.  We also get WIC, a supplemental program for pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under 5, for two of our children.  Our WIC benefits for the two children each month currently equals:
6 gallons of 2%, 1%, 1/2% or skim milk
2 pounds cheese ($8.00 max per lb)
2 dozen eggs
72 oz cereal
2 jar 18oz peanut butter, lb of dry beans, or 4 15-16oz can beans
2 quarts 2%, 1%, 1/2%, skim or buttermilk
4 lbs whole grains (options include bread, quick cooking oats, ww tortillas, or brown rice)
$12 fruits and vegetables
4 64oz bottles of juice
The specific items, varieties, and brands allowed can be found on the brochure here.  That's it.  That's all we have to feed the family, especially now with my husband being out of work.  There is no fabled $500 or so that we would get according to the "averages" I see all over the internet.  There is $161 plus WIC.  I'm hoping that number will go up as the Department of Human Services notices the paperwork we turned in about the change in income, but until they do.....

That's just part of the reality of living on food stamps though.  The number could go up or down at any time.  When we first received them, around the time for the birth of my fourth kid, we got about $350 a month and I was ecstatic!  That was such an improvement over the $25 for two weeks that we could usually scrounge up for groceries at the time (yes, I did require the help of visits to the food bank, especially since my garden was limited to two 4x4 garden boxes at the time)!  Even though it was far, far below what the average family spends on groceries, about $150 a week, it was a lot to me.   Eventually, my husband's income went up and our food stamps dropped to $79 a month.  That's right, $79 a month to feed 5-6 people.  And, even though our income looked larger on paper, we still rarely could come up with any money to use to eat above and beyond that number.  During that time, I started container gardening in addition to my 4x4 boxes and eventually we were able to move out of my mother-in-law's double wide and into our own place, which I would eventually start referring to as the Trailer Park Homestead.  After we'd lived here for several months, DHS finally acknowledged our much higher expenses and raised our benefits to $171 a month.  Then, a couple months ago, without reason or warning, that number was reduced to $161 a month.

This blogger's food stamp is different in other key ways from being real and not just made up.  For one thing, I'm not going to calculate how much each individual thing I eat costs.  It doesn't matter.  There is now way I could "cheat" on this challenge, since we have no money, so what we eat is what we eat.   Also, I figure I can include all food in the house.  It was all either bought with food stamps at some point, or I acquired it some other way, either growing, gleaning, hunting, or foraging.  With three little kids (6 and under), a part time tween, and a husband that doesn't always play by my rules when it comes to food in the house, I also can't always be so precise about where the food went to.  I know what I eat each day and will share that, along with my (mostly) educated guess about what everyone else ate, but this will be far from an exact science.

Another huge difference is the time frame.  Since this is reality, there is no tidy beginning and ending time.  We get our food stamps on the 21st of each month and WIC on the 15th.  Since this month's cycle started last month, but we spent most of last week eating on our family's dime via Thanksgiving dinners, I decided about now would be as good as time as any to start sharing this slab of reality with you.

So there you have it, the ground rules of my challenge aka reality.  I will start sharing my grocery receipts tomorrow, along with what I ate today (yesterday, we ate at my mother-in-law's when we were visiting and then polished off more leftovers for dinner.  I also had a couple glasses of milk with dinner and a couple cans of Diet Coke throughout the day and the kids each had a small glass of juice with dinner).  I will endeavor to be as thorough and honest as possible, sharing the good, the bad, and the downright embarrassing (yes, I am embarrassed about some of my groceries), but, since this is reality, sh*^ happens, so we'll see how it plays out.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meal Plan Monday--November 28-December 4

I did really, really well last week on sticking to my meal plan (that Thanksgiving thingy helped a lot!).  The only day we deviated at all was Wednesday when cheese quesadillas seemed like too much work (I was really down that day!) so we had grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup instead.  Kind of almost the same thing, but with bread instead of tortillas, right?

This week, the theme is largely "use it up".  Even though we've had to live on our $161 a month in food stamps, plus what we get on WIC, for a while, this is the first time in a really, really long time (like ever) that there is no backup at all.  If I go over even a couple bucks, we are out of luck, because we just don't have the couple bucks to spare.  (The sick and twisted part of me thinks that would make it an excellent time for a "food stamp challenge" because I can't "cheat" and spend a bit more, like closer to what the "average" family of 5 would get on food stamps, which is what the vast majority of food stamp challenges use as their limit.  More on that soon?  Maybe?)  That breaks down to $38 a week to feed 5 people, 6 when my bottomless pit of a twelve year old son is around for the holidays.  I really, really hope they up that number soon, just for my sanity, if not because we actually can't get by without it!

Monday:  Thanksgiving leftovers (from my family's dinner on Friday)

Tuesday: turkeyherder's pie (last of the leftovers from Friday's dinner)

Wednesday: pasties (I have some rutabaga, onions, and carrots that really need using up, so no more putting this off!)

Thursday: broccoli, cheddar, and potato soup (need to make bread, so why not make bread bowls at the same time?)

Friday: meatballs in venison gravy on rice with green beans on the side

Saturday: homemade pizza (????? This would involve attempting to make mozzarella for the first time most likely as well as finding a pizza crust recipe that looks promising, so I might just serve up nachos instead if that fails or if I chicken out)

Sunday: creamy turkey & rice casserole

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers: use 'em or lose 'em

As we wrap up Thanksgiving weekend, it is also time to wrap up Thanksgiving leftovers.  You can safely eat refrigerated leftovers for up to four day, so we're down to crunch time.  Either use those leftovers, or lose them. 

The Turkey

If you still have a turkey lurking in your fridge (a lurky turkey!  Ha ha!), get it out of there ASAP.  If it is still on the bone, take as much meat off as you can, stick anything you aren't going to eat today in freezer baggies or containers (I prefer 1 or 2 cup reusable freezer containers, since that's the quantity I'm going to be needing them in), and stick the remaining carcass in a stock pot filled with water, a couple onions, some carrots, maybe some celery (I don't use celery because I don't go through enough to justify buying it and we don't miss it in the finished product), maybe some parsley, and a lil' bit of salt and pepper, if desired.  Let it simmer for 5 to 24 hours and you have yourself a goodly quantity of turkey stock for soups, stews, flavoring rice when you cook it, anything else that you might ordinarily use chicken stock for.  When it is done cooking, you can can it if you have a pressure canner, or just freeze it.

You can use those little pieces of turkey meat in anything that you might ordinarily use cooked chicken.  Around here, that includes: chicken stew with dumplings, jambalaya, chicken broccoli cheese casserole, chicken fried rice, chicken teriyaki, chili rice with chicken, chicken egg rolls, chicken and asparagus stir-fry, chicken pot pie, chicken fajitas, and chickenherder's pie.  On any of those recipes, just imagine it says "turkey" anywhere it says "chicken" and you are good to go.

The Mashed Potatoes & Gravy

Around here, we are such potato eating fiends when mashed potatoes are put in front of us, that leftover mashed potatoes is hardly likely.  In the unlikely event that such a thing happens, they are quickly used up in a turkeyherder's pie (see above), which is basically a shepherd's pie type thing that has a mixture of turkey (or chicken), gravy, and mixed veggies (which is one of the reasons I prefer to keep veggies plain if I were hosting a feast, so I could just throw my leftover veggies in with the rest of the leftovers!) in a casserole dish, topped with mashed potatoes and a little cheese.

If by some freak of nature, that wasn't enough to take care of leftover mashed potatoes, I might try this potato soup recipe I came across the other day that looks pretty good.  Maybe even stick in a bread bowl to completely launch myself into a carb coma (is there such a thing?).  Just kidding.

Everything Else

Do people ever even have any other leftovers besides the things I've mentioned?  I usually run out of everything else (aka the good stuff.  Just kidding, kind of) within a day or two.  I actually made more cranberry sauce to go with the stuffing, etc on Saturday and cooked some carrots so we'd have veggies to go with our carb overload on Sunday.  I got nothing for ideas right now, since I honestly don't know what kinds of leftovers I'm missing, so if you still have leftovers that need eaten up right away and don't know what to do with them, post it in the comments!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why I Hate "Turkey Day"

I have two major pet peeves when it comes to the month of November. Number one is Christmas stuff littering the stores and the airwaves all the way to the beginning of the month. The second one is when people refer to Thanksgiving as Turkey Day. I think both of these issues boil down to the same problem: materialism and/or commercialism. (read more)

Pumpkin Spice Cake--Week #9 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

Well, this was supposed to be a cookie recipe.  I'm not sure I understand what happened here.  The recipe I was working off of clearly said "pumpkin spice bar cookies", but what I ended up was definitely more cake-like.  Maybe my eggs were too big.  Maybe it was because I was using homegrown (by my mom) pumpkin instead of canned.  If I cut out an egg or two, it probably would have been denser and more cookie-like, but I didn't have any more pumpkin to make a second batch to try my theory (if someone else tries that, please post here to let me know how that worked out).  Regardless, it still tasted good and I'd be proud to share it at a holiday party.  In fact, I'll be bringing this (minus the parts we ate in the name of evaluating the finished product) to the in-laws' for Thanksgiving today!

Pumpkin Spice Cake
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups pureed pumpkin (I used frozen and thawed homegrown pumpkin)
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup raisins
3 oz cream cheese, softened
6 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 15 1/2x10 1/2 x1in jelly roll pan.  Beat together eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin.  Blend in flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.  Mix in raisins.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 30 minutes or until light brown and cool.  Beat together cream cheese and butter.  Gradually add powdered sugar and beat in until creamy and smooth.  Frost cooled cake.  Sprinkle with chopped walnuts.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meal Plan Monday--November 21-27

Again, I did well following last week's meal plan until toward the end of the week, when I started having sever chest pains that interfered with my ability to get anything done (don't worry: I went to the hospital to get checked out since there have been seemingly healthy women in my family that have died of cardiac problems around my age and they said it was a combination of muscle strain and stress, so nothing serious or life threatening), so I didn't get the meatballs or pasties made, or discover a new recipe for chicken casserole, like I'd been planning.  I still have to do the meatballs, since I already got the meat out to thaw, but may hold off on the pasties, since I'm supposed to be taking it easy for a few days.

This week's meal plan is pretty short, since we have two Thanksgiving dinners to attend on different days and we usually get sent home with leftovers from both.  Here's my plan for the week, such as it is though:

Monday: baked chicken, Harvard beets, baked sweet potatoes with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar
Tuesday: meatballs, mashed potatoes with venison gravy, peas
Wednesday: cheese quesadillas
Thursday:  Thanksgiving dinner

Friday: Thanksgiving dinner

Saturday: leftovers

Sunday: leftovers

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Handmade Holidays for Kids--great upcycled gifts and more

I saw on the news last night that there are already people camping out for Black Friday sales.  Seriously?  If I had almost a week of free time, I can think of lots of things to do with it, but camping out for the privilege of buying something wouldn't make the list, even if I did have money to spend.

As it is, I don't know that I'll have any money to spend on Christmas presents!  The adults on my list are pretty easy to take care of gifts for, since I was already leaning toward homemade gifts for them anyway (which I'm not going to say right now, since some of them do read this blog, but I might mention it on my Facebook page), but kids can be a bit trickier.  They tend to know what they like and, thanks to a culture of rampant commercialism (you know, the kind of culture that puts it in people's heads that they should camp out for a week to buy something!), kids tend to want store bought crap.  I have a few ideas that I'm tossing about for the kids on my list though, ranging from toddler to teen.  I don't know if I'm going to make all, or even any of these (and expect a blog post on the ones I do!), since if money were to present itself, I'd rather buy something (I know, I'm bad) that I know the kids would like than rely on my shabby crafting skills to produce something that, if well made, I'm sure they would like, but I can't promise I would make most of these well, since the majority of them depend on some stitching or basic woodworking skills that, frankly, I lack.  Basically, I'm brainstorming very publicly.

I stole the pictures from sites that contain directions, figuring they'd want me to, since you are more likely to go to their site if you see how cute their ideas are.  There are a number of thses that I wouldn't make exactly the same way as the directions I link to, but I linked to something just to give you an idea of what I have in mind.  If I do decide to make those gifts, I definitely will post my own version. 

Toddlers to Early Elementary Ages
felt food (a ginormous list of tutorials for tons of foods can be found here)

a bean bag toss game; maybe like this one, maybe something a bit different

sock monkey

bath crayons
salt dough jewelry
sewing cards
rag doll
puppet theatre

puppets made from old stuffed animals

Elementary Age to Teens
wobble board
jean purse

Friday, November 18, 2011

I CAN Can....And Freeze--Trailer Park Homestead 2011 totals

I finished up canning my venison stock last night, thereby ending my planned canning this year.  I say planned because if my husband uses all his deer tags, I may end up needing to can some venison too, since I'm about out of freezer space, but we'll have to wait and see what happens with that. 

As of right now, I have 257 jars of food I canned in the house.  Yay me!  Not bad for my first year of fairly serious canning effort, wouldn't you say?

Here's what I have (totals may not actually add up to 257, since these tallies were done a couple days ago when the pictures were taken) and I'm pretty sure we've used some since then):

apple-tomato salsa (14 1/2 pints, 16 pints, 5 quarts)
tomato salsa (1 quart)
applesauce (16 1/2 pints, 43 pints, 8 quarts)
peaches (19 pints, 8 quarts)
pears (5 pints, 14 quarts)
pearsauce (8 pints)
diced tomatoes (8 pints, 12 quarts)
tomato sauce (4 1/2 pints, 31 pints)
dill pickles (3 pints, 9 quarts)
chicken stock (2 pints, 5 quarts)
venison stock (11 pints, 4 quarts)
ground cherry jam (8 1/2 pints)
raspberry jam (3 1/2 pints, 1 pint)
blueberry jam (2 1/2 pints, 6 pints)
peach honey (1 pint)

In addition to the canned stuff, I managed to fill the freezer this year too.  Our small chest freezer currently contains nothing that was in there prior to June of this year.  I didn't bother with quantities on the freezer stuff since the hodge-podge of bags and freezer containers doesn't lend itself well to standard sizing.

venison (soon to be added to, since my husband got another deer on Monday and hopefully will be getting more)
chicken (see When Zombie Chickens Attack)
acorns waiting to be processed
strawberry freezer jam
raspberry freezer jam (just a couple jars.  I got my canner as raspberries were coming into season)
a little bit of tomato juice
a little bit of tomato sauce that didn't seal when canning
venison stock
cream of mushroom soup
red food coloring (derived from beets, still untested but will try soon)
shredded zucchini
Harvard beets
carrots (both sliced and sticks)
snap beans (2 kinds)
pear fruit leather
apple fruit leather
green peppers

I'm pretty proud of what all I put up this year.  Of all this stuff, the only things that came from a store were the mushrooms for the mushroom soup, a few other ingredients in the mushroom soup, the sugar for jams, the pectin in some of the jams, lemon juice used in canning, some vinegar, a little salt in the stocks, and the dill pickle spices.  That's it.  For that whole long list of foods, that's all the grocery store had to contribute.  Everything else came from hunting, foraging, gleaning, the farmers market (bought with insanely little money thanks to the Double Up Food Bucks program), or from my tiny Trailer Park Homestead.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Triple Layer Cookie Bars--Week #8 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

I wanted to make 7-layer bars for this week's cookie, because I have a bit of a weakness for them and suspect it will be a loooooooong time before I can go to a coffeehouse and have one as one of my rare ultimate indulgences.  When I started to look over the ingredients to make them to see if I had everything I needed, I discovered some oversized varmints, ie the kids and hubby, had eaten all the graham crackers!  I decided this recipe with its three delicious layers would be close enough to satisfy my craving and just used ingredients that no one had gotten into (probably because I tend to hide certain valuables, like chocolate chips!).

My cell phone camera does NOT do this thing justice!
Triple Layer Cookie Bars
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup cocoa powder (the baking stuff, not the hot cocoa stuff)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, cold
2 eggs, beaten
1 7oz pkg flaked cocnut
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 baking pan.  In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  Use a pastry blender to cut in butter, until mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Mix in eggs; you may need to use your hands to get the last bit of powderiness mixed in.  Press dough into the bottom of the baking pan to form a crust.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Spread coconut in an even layer over crust.  Drizzle sweetened condensed milk over the coconut.  Bake an additional 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned.  Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter in a double boiler (or in a saucepan over really, really low heat!), stirring constantly until smooth.  Spread over bars.  Let cool completely before cutting.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Packing it in for the year--a Trailer Park Homestead update

The nice weather days for working outside are getting fewer and fewer, so when yesterday's gorgeous weather presented itself, I knew it was a good time to get as much done as possible outside!  It doesn't get much better than 57 degrees and mostly sunny in November in Michigan!  I set the kids to work gathering leaves to be composted and got to work on my own projects.
After all, it is going to take a lot of compost to turn this mess of a driveway that flooded the first time it rained back into a beautiful, lush garden come springtime!
I also pulled all the dead plants I could find, but a surprising number of plants, mostly calendula and cabbage relatives are still hanging on out there!  The snap peas and spinach have given up though.
When good compost goes bad.  I emptied out the "temporary" compost bin I'd put together in the spring when the contractor told me I needed to move it from where the original compost bin was.  I hadn't bothered to turn it since I threw it all in the plastic bin that formed its base, since it was just temporary, right?  When I finally did something with it yesterday, I discovered that it had gotten all anaerobic and gross down at the bottom.  Huh.  I guess that's why compost is supposed to be in something that can breath and be turned from time to time.
And this is what prompted my playing with the old compost bin.  This compost pile didn't exist yesterday morning!  I threw in a nice mix of established soil from buckets I'd been growing things that still needed emptied, a lil' bit of manure-y stuff I'd scraped off the back of my parents' truck last time they were by (fingers crossed that there were a few red wigglers in there!), our decaying Halloween pumpkins, leaves, and the nearly finished compost and not so nearly finished compost from the other bin.  I'm thinking that, since it stays a bit warmer in the garage than outside, as long as I make sure it stays moist over the winter, it will be more likely to all be compost by the time spring comes around being in the garage.  I did reestablish a new pile in the "temporary" bin outside too, so I can compare notes, and hopefully end up with even more compost.  Have I mentioned that I'm going to need a lot of soil to turn that horrible driveway into something beautiful, productive, and tasty?
My other big project for yesterday was to pull everything I canned that I stashed around the house to see what I have and how much there is (hint: this is only part of it.  It wouldn't all fit in one camera shot!  There were 243 jars total at the time this photo was taken, not including a few jars I decided didn't look safe to eat and dumped).  Yesterday's post showed everything I've frozen this year (soon to be joined by another deer.  Yay for my mighty hunter husband!), but I haven't listed all that I was able to put up anywhere.  If you want to see the list, let me know and maybe that will be Friday's post.  There is a darn lot of food in this house that I paid little (at the farmers market) or nothing (grown, gleaned, or foraged) for!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Once-a-month Freezer Cooking? I Think Not

In theory, I love the notion of once a month freezer cooking.  If you're not familiar with the concept, you basically prepare a month's worth of meals, typically about 10-15 different dishes in one day dedicated to nothing else but this Herculean feat.  Then, all month, you have worry free meals.  Just pop something out of the freezer and prepare as directed.

Unfortunately, there are about a billion reasons why I've found that this doesn't work for me.  Here are my top ten:

10.  I like fresh food too much.  There are very, very few foods that taste as good to me after they've been frozen as they do fresh without further preparation.  I can actually think of two dinner type dishes that meet that vital criteria: meatballs and pasties.  Sure there are tons of things in my freezers, but they are all ingredients in something else rather than a finished product.  I'm ever hopeful of finding more and plan on trying a bunch of new recipes over the winter to expand my prepared food freezer stock.

9.  It isn't as thrifty.  When you make all your meals at once like this, you typically buy all the ingredients for the big cooking day the night before.  This means you can't take full advantage of sales throughout the month.

8.  It's too painful.  Long hours on one's feet with limited moving about and endless hours of chopping or other tedious tasks is not my idea of a good time.  It is fine doing all these things in moderation though, which is why I have no problem cooking just about every day.

7.  I don't have the kitchen space.  I have virtually no counter space to work on.  It is a struggle sometimes to put together one meal in the space I have to work in.  Doing about a dozen would be darn near impossible.

Lots of stuff in my freezers, but nothing ready to eat for dinner!
6.  I don't have the freezer space.  One of the books I've read on once a month cooking claims that, even if you don't have a chest freezer, you still should have enough freezer space.  Obviously this book was not written by any sort of homesteader, gardener, or hunter.  There are no old, freezer burnt, forgotten mystery packages in my freezer taking up much needed space as one author suggested was likely the case.  There are a ton of fresh frozen fruits and vegetables from this summers adventures, as well as some acorns that are waiting to be processed, and bags of venison and chicken that will provide my family with our meat for the next few months, possibly the whole year.

5.  TOO MUCH PLANNING!  In order to coordinate that many meals, that far ahead of time, to make sure that every last ingredient is available in the quantities required, especially since I'd have to be doing it all with three little ones in it any wonder I referred to this entire process as Herculean?  And, despite rumors to the contrary, I'm not a demigod, so I tend to avoid tasks of that magnitude.

4.  The meals for the month aren't varied enough.  Sometimes, I don't want to duplicate a meal for a couple months.  I have enough meal recipes in current rotation, that I could easily go several months without repetition if I wanted.  And sometimes I do want.  Thirty meals would be too many to cook in one day though, so by doing this once a month cooking process, you are committing to duplication throughout the month.

3.  The meals for the month are too varied.  Sometimes, I want to act like a little kid and eat the same thing lots of times in one month.  With once a month cooking, you are committing to only eat those meals that certain number of times a month.  When they are gone, they're gone!

2.  Kids.  There is no way I can do even the smallest task without a million interruptions (amusingly enough, they interrupted me writing that sentence!), so I know there is no way I could accomplish that large of task in one day!

1.  If I did, by some miracle, have a day without kids, I wouldn't want to spend it cooking.  I'd want to spend it doing something I almost never do, like sit down and relax!

This isn't to say I don't do any cooking for the freezer; I just don't do it all at once.  Instead, I do a little at a time.  When I make something that freezes well, like pasties or meatballs, I make a mega-batch.  We eat some then and freeze the rest for future use, whether that be a few days or a few months later.  Much simpler, much easier, and much more possible with kids!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meal Plan Monday--November 14-20

Being sick this weekend reminded me of something important: I've let my ready-to-go homemade freezer goodies go down to nothing.  I'm going to begin to rectify that this week, I hope.  It was awful to have to get up and make dinner from near scratch (I had some plain canned tomato sauce to work with to make spaghetti sauce, but that was it) when I couldn't even stand up long enough to make spaghetti!  I don't want to be caught in that situation again, so I'll start building that ready-to-go freezer stock pretty darn soon here, but first, I need to get caught up on the stuff I couldn't do over the weekend, both inside and outside the house, so Monday's and Tuesday's meals are pretty simple.  In fact, this entire week's plan is so integrated with what I want to get done this week, that I'm including my major project(s) for the day in parentheses next to the day of the week, so you can see why I picked that dinner to go with that day.

Monday (catch up on housework from the weekend): bbq chicken, baked potatoes, corn, and fresh tomato slices (didn't make this weekend because I was sick)

Tuesday (finish yardwork/garden projects for the year, start new compost heap, rake leaves): nachos
Wednesday (start venison stock, make cookies): baked macaroni & cheese and green beans
Thursday (can venison stock, make bread): venison stew with fresh homemade bread (bread bowls?)

Friday (make meatballs for the freezer):  meatballs, mashed potatoes, peas
Saturday (make pasties for the freezer): pasties
Sunday (make baked beans): creamy chicken casserole

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mexican Lasagna

Today's post is by Patricialynn of Allure of Hearth and Home because I am sick.  Hopefully, I will be up and around soon, because I just don't have time for this, but in the meantime, here ya go. 

My family loves Mexican food, so we usually always have the supplies on hand to make several Mexican dishes. But even if you don’t, this dish is worth buying all the individual ingredients for! It’s mouth-wateringly good, and remarkably filling. Best of all, it’s easy to adapt to your own tastes. For us, we usually make this dish near the end of the pay period, when leftovers from previous Mexican dishes are needing to be used up. Also, we live in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood, so I’ve become spoiled on homemade tortillas and refried beans from our lovely neighbors.

I’m not going to put down specific amounts, simply because the amount you use varies depending on the size of the dish you are cooking in, and the number of layers you are creating.  But here is what I use, in the order in which I layer the lasagna:

Whole wheat tortillas
Refried beans
Taco meat (my kids prefer beef, I prefer chicken)
Mexican rice
Black beans
Sweet corn
Cheese (either plain cheddar or a Mexican blend)

Bake at 350. If you have two layers, bake for about 25 minutes. For each additional layer, add seven minutes. If you are going with more than three layers, you may want to add the final layer, the cheese topping, part-way through the cooking time, so the cheese doesn’t dry out and get crusty.

I do not make the layers very thick. The taco meat, black beans and sweet corn are only sprinkled on. I think thick layers of those ingredients would be overkill.

Of course, the best way to enjoy this dish is to top it off with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and sour cream, but that will add to the overall price of the dish.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Interview with @YourGardenShow & My Greatest Challenge

Earlier in the week, an interview with me appeared on's blog.  Obviously, this interview took place before the destruction of my primary gardening area to put down this driveway:

Now, the question "What's your greatest challenge food gardening?" would be answered with something like:  "My greatest challenge is overcoming the continued obstacles the trailer park management keeps putting in my path.  Before we ever signed a lease here, we asked extensive questions about whether gardening was allowed, to what extent, and specifically about my ideas for the yard.  I was told all of that would be fine.  Before signing, I read the lease carefully to make sure there was nothing in there that would present any problems.  I found nothing.  However, when the trailer park manager saw what I was doing, she started to try to change the rules on me.  I will not give up and continue to do what I must to feed my family, operating within the confines of our lease agreement and the geographic limitations.  I don't know whether it is intentional or not, but a recent decision by management, to create a crushed asphalt driveway where the part of my garden the manager expressed the greatest personal displeasure with, dealt a crushing blow to my garden.  I will not be defeated though.  Instead, I see this as a new opportunity.  I no longer have to deal with worrying about how much of the grass is torn up in this area, since management made the decision to cover the whole area!  Instead, I can create more garden in the same limited area, since now my paths can be more narrow and I will have more opportunities for vertical growing."

The full interview, including my original answer to that question and a picture of what the trailer park manager found so terrible that she gave me a written notice on Augest 5 to "please remove garden & restore grass area" (and then this week was covered by crushed asphalt.  See why I'm suspicious that it was done specifically to thwart me?) can be found by clicking here.

(There is a giant hint about some of my plans for next year's garden in the forefront of the picture on the interview as well.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hot Buttered Rum--Grandma's recipes archival project

I only extremely rarely (like once a year or less) partake of alcoholic beverages anymore, but on a cold, cold night like last night, when the temperature in the house can reach as low as 55 degrees, this would be mighty tempting if I had it mixed up and ready to go in the freezer!

This looks good

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chocolate Oatmeal Thumbprint Cookies--Week #7 of the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies

When deciding what cookie to make for the week, I decided that something chocolaty would be in order with everything else going on this week (see yesterday's second post for a break explanation of the key points), plus a chocolate thumbprint cookie would complement last week's strawberry cheesecake cookies.  I also thought something made of largely healthier ingredients would offset the likely overindulgence of last week's cookies!

With these ideas in mind, chocolate oatmeal thumbprint cookies were born!

Chocolate Oatmeal Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 heaping cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 2 baking sheets.  In a medium mixing bowl, beat together softened butter, honey, and brown sugar until creamy.  Add egg, flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda and mix well.  Beat in oats.  Roll batter into 1 inch balls using your hands.  Place balls on the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of each cookie.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely.  When they are almost completely cool, melt together 1/4 cup butter and chocolate chips in a double boiler.  Spoon chocolate mixture in the indentation of each cookie.  Allow chocolate to solidify before serving.

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Totally Devastated--a Trailer Park Homestead update update

 So to update this mornings Trailer Park Homestead update, in which I mentioned they were going to put a new floor down on the garage, they not only put down a floor in the garage, they put down an awful "crushed asphalt" driveway that covers almost the entire area my garden was. So where this summer it looked like this:

Now it looks like this:
That is not just mud.  That is an actual driveway.  Obviously, I'm not going to let this stop me from gardening, especially since I suspect (but have no proof of) that is the purpose of the driveway, since that was not mentioned when I was talking to the contractor this spring.  It just means that all my hard work to dig out the garden plots that made the yard so pretty this year (unless you are the trailer park manager, in which apparently the picture from this summer is "unsightly" and the bottom picture is acceptable) is gone.  Utterly and completely devastated. 

So it looks like in the spring, I'll be needing to build some garden boxes and/or planters to set on this eyesore of a driveway to keep my garden growing.  Great.  Just what I need--another project that may cost money, especially when my husband, the sole breadwinner of the household, just lost his job on Monday.

Is it any wonder that this new development is leaving me totally devastated?