Saturday, April 30, 2011


I think I'm finally overcoming my phobia of crust-like things!  First, I made my last quiche (a quiche lorraine, in case you care) with a homemade pie crust, the first one I've ever successfully made.  Then, I just made a large batch of pasties!  These have long been a favorite of mine, but I've always been too afraid to make them before, so this is quite an accomplishment.  Apparently, you can also buy them some places in Michigan, but I don't think I've ever been to such an establishment and have only had homemade ones.  Now that I've successfully made these, I'm seriously considering growing some rutabagas, so I only have to buy the butter, flour, and salt to make these, since the veggies can all be homegrown and venison works well for the meat.

These are a bit time consuming to make, since there is a lot of cutting things into little pieces, but they do freeze well, so it is possible to make a huge batch that you'll get at least a couple family meals out of the deal.  And they are so yummy that it is totally worth it!  This is a base recipe as well, so you may want to play with seasonings, especially chicken ones (my mom makes super awesome chicken pasties.  I really need to find out what she uses to make them taste so good!  And I just looked at the recipe she gave me and it says "for chicken, garlic, chopped parsley, paprika, salt, thyme, rosemary to taste," so I guess that answers that question!), but even without seasoning, they are fantastic.  I always like them with ketchup on them, but my mom seems to think this is an atrocity and possibly an insult to the chef.  I just see it as the finishing brushstrokes on a culinary work of art!

My mom, who I got this recipe from, says this should yield 13 pasties, but I made most of mine smaller, so I ended up getting about 20 out of this today.  I like to make smaller ones so the kids have some their sizes and it also allows me and my husband more flexibility on portion size, depending on how hungry we are.


2 cups rutabaga, diced
3 cups carrots, diced
1 cup onions, diced
4 cups potatoes, diced
4 cups meat, diced
4 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup butter
up to 1 1/2 cups water

Mix together meat and vegetables in an enormous bowl and set aside.  Combine flour and salt in a separate bowl.  Cut in butter until it resembles fine crumbs.  Slowly add water until the dough becomes right texture.  Sprinkle flour onto the work surface and rolling pin and roll dough out into pieces about 6"x9".  Fill with 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the meat and vegetable mixture.  Pull dough over the mixture and pinch the edges to seal.  

Place on ungreased baking trays.  To eat immediately, bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.  To freeze, bake at 350 for 35 minutes and reheat the frozen pasties by baking at 350 for 40 minutes.
I want to know what you think:

Is it okay to put ketchup on pasties?


Friday, April 29, 2011

"Foil-wrapped" Dinners

I put "foil-wrapped" in quotes because I've just discovered an alternative version of this that has the same ingredients, but is made with bone-in (and therefore cheaper) chicken and without the foil!  I've always just called the base recipe foil-wrapped dinners though, so I'm not sure what to call this new version yet!  I'm still presenting the foil-wrapped version here though, since A) it's still really good and B) betcha you could cook it outside in an open fire or grill, even though I've never tried it that way.  Might be worth a shot!  If you try it that way, let me know how it turned out please!

Foil-wrapped Dinners

 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breasts
4 medium carrots, sliced
4 medium potatoes, peeled & quartered
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cups frozen peas

Heat oven to 450 degrees.   Cut meat into 1-inch pieces.  Tear off 4 pieces of aluminum foil, each approximately 18x15 inches.  On the center of each piece, place 1/4 of the carrot slices, 1 potato, 1/4 of the chicken, and 1/4 of the onion slices.  Pour cream of mushroom soup over each pile.  Top with peas.  Wrap securely in the foil.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 50 minutes or until chicken is cooked completely and vegetables are tender.  Garnish with cherry tomatoes if desired.

Easy-peasy crockpot version

Use the same ingredients, except bone-in pieces of chicken can be substituted for the chicken breasts, and whole "baby" carrots can be used in place of the carrot slices.  Put all ingredients in a crock pot, stir, and cook on high 4 hours or until chicken is cooked through and veggies are soft or 8-10 hours on low.
(featured in the linky at Real Food, Whole Health)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dandelion Roars

With all the rain we've been having, I need some sun, so I figured now would be a good time to talk about dandelions!  Seriously, dandelions have got to be one of the most perfect plants in the world!  They are bright and sunny to look at, can be used medicinally, the root, leaves, and flowers are all good to eat at some point, and they are sure easy to grow!  If everyone fully understood how great dandelions were, there would be no market for companies like TruGreen (which I strongly suspect will have an ad running over there -->  Silly AdSense!) to get paid to dump toxins on a perfectly nice lawn!  In fact, a lot of the same people who do have companies like that come out to kill their dandelions, may be paying good money to buy dandelions at the same time.  A lot of storebought salad mixes have young dandelion leaves in them.  Most herbal diuretic pills and detox formulas contain dandelion root.  Yet, millions of silly people continue to dump poisons on this, my favorite flower. 
My middle son was quite distressed when I uprooted a dandelion when digging out garden beds.  He immediately got his shovel out and started looking for a place to replant it.
A couple a years ago, we did a lapbook about dandelions for my son's homeschooling lessons.  During the course of this project, we took our love for dandelions to a new level and made a couple recipes to enjoy the flowers.  Here is one such recipe:

Fried Dandelion Blossoms

young dandelion blossoms (not fully open yet)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
oil for frying

Thoroughly wash dandelion blossoms and remove any excess stem, only leaving enough to hold the flower together.  Completely dry by blotting on a paper towel.  Heat oil deep enough to completely submerge flowers to 375 degrees.  Combine beaten egg, milk, flour, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl.  Dip the flowers into the batter to completely coat and fry until golden brown.  Drain before serving.
This recipe wasn't perfect.  Next time I make them, I will probably put some herbs in there or something to make them more flavorful, but it was still fun to do, the kids loved it, and, anytime you deep fry something and dip it in ranch, it can't be all bad (except for bad for your health).  If I come up with an even better version and/or find the dandelion cookie recipe we made, which was pretty darn good, except that it needed chocolate, I guess I'll have to share more dandelion fun!

Speaking of more dandelion fun, here are some of the things that readers of this blog like to do with dandelions:
  • Mary Beth said "I am eating a bowl of sauteed greens right now!! I dug up bucket fulls today from the herb gardens!"
  • Lindy said " they are yummy! And for a diuretic they are balanced and won't deplete your electrolytes!"
  • Lisa said "I put a little bit of dandelion leaves in my green smoothies when they're 'in season'"
  • Cheryl said "Necklaces and tiaras"
While I was writing this, the rain did stop and the sun came out.  The yard was sprinkled with dandelions.  I've been trapped in the house most of the day, dealing with a sick toddler, but my other children still went out to play in the sunlight and when they came back in, I was presented with this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

MORE April Showers Bring OMG WILL IT NEVER END?!?!?!

As I'm writing this, there is severe weather around the state.  It has been raining approximately every. single. day. for the past thousand years it seems.  Talk of building an ark is frequent conversation.  Very frustrating when someone wants to get some major edible landscaping projects done on the yard!  As such, I haven't gotten nearly as much done this week as I would like, but nonetheless, here is my weekly photo roundup, so you can see what all is growing on the Trailer Park Homestead!

The bed in the upper left corner contains peas, onions, and cabbage, all up and doing well.  The one on the right, my St. Patty's Day bed, has onions and spinach up.  I replanted the carrots last week, so hopefully that will be in next week's pictures but they aren't up yet.  The spinach is intermixed with the onions in places, washed there by the overabundance of rain.  I think I'll leave them there and just go with it!
The far planter has spinach, the middle and the closest have leaf lettuce (in different stages of development for longer harvest). The middle trench has nothing yet but will have some blue jade corn (which only gets about 3 ft tall) to conceal the buckets, which will have tomatoes.  The closest bucket contains the root and stem of a cold set tomato plant that my toddler tore apart the other day.  I'm hoping it grows back!  The trench heading out to the right of the picture will contain a strip of blue jade corn, with sunflowers to the east of it (closer to the house), and cucumbers and melons interwoven among, and possibly up, them, thereby creating a natural fence/border of our lot.

On my stairway garden area, the peas are finally all sprouting and one of three strawberry pots is showing signs of life.  I may have killed the other two with improper (ie sticking them in the garage) overwintering.  Only time will tell, I guess.
Raspberry bushes that I haven't managed to kill by improper overwintering (ignoring in their tiny pots).  Looks like a lot of the dirt has been washed away from all that fricking rain and I probably should add some more, since there are roots exposed and that can't be good!
More pots of peas.  We heart our snap peas 'round here!  They're like candy on the vine!  These are placed on the backside of my front planter, since the spots in the box are reserved for tomatoes and other things (I don't remember right now!), but by being placed here, I'll be able to use the strings that the tomatoes will later occupy while the tomatoes are still inside.
My indoor garden area under the shop light hanging from the kitchen cabinet.  Back left to right:  3 varieties of tomato, green peppers, and ground cherries.  In the eggshells, we have zucchini, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and cucumbers...far more than I had originally figured on!
Is it me, or do these little zucchini plants look like baby dinosaurs hatching?
This is the other half of the cold set tomato plant.  My dad suggested putting it in water to see if it would grow new roots.  So far, it isn't looking very hopeful.  In fact, it looks a little droopy and dead.  I'll leave it a while longer to see what happens.
If anyone is keeping score, here are the plants I currently have growing on the Trailer Park Homestead:

cold-set tomato? (pending new sprouts from the stem)
carrots (planted but not yet visible)
snap peas
raspberry bush
blackberry bush
blueberry bush

Ace 55 tomatoes
Brandywine tomatoes
Beefsteak tomatoes
green peppers
ground cherries
blue Hubbard squash
stars and moon watermelon

Looks like I'm done starting seeds in the house for the season.  Next batch of things I'm due to plant are all outside after the last frost in a few weeks!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Worms Crawl In, The Worms Crawl Out

And the fact that they crawl out is fair proof that I stink at vermiculture.  Fortunately, it doesn't happen often.  I get ahead of myself though.

At the last trailer park we lived in, I tried to have a sealed compost bin in the back of the house, where no one should notice it, so I could get rid of some of our waste in a more environmentally friendly matter and make some awesome compost for my garden boxes while I was at it, instead of always having to buy compost if I wasn't lucky enough to find some on Freecycle.  Within a few weeks, the trailer park manager noticed it and told my mother-in-law (with whom we were living) that it had to go.  WTH?  In order to even see what it was, he had to be snooping around on a level that is completely unacceptable, and if we owned the trailer, we probably would have sued for him to pay to have it moved to a new location for such an invasion!  My mother-in-law, on the other hand, just said I had to get rid of it.
This is an earthworm.  This is not the right kind of worm for vermicomposting.  We do enjoy "worm hunting" after rain and collect this kind of worm off the roads and put them in the garden to do their thing though!

When I heard of vermiculture, I was thrilled to discover a way I could compost indoors (hidden from my mother-in-law, since I'm quite sure she wouldn't have approved!).  I got a worm bin already made from my mom, who had used it in some sort of demonstration for her volunteer work as a master gardener, and got some red wiggler worms that were being sold as bait at a gas station for about $3 (if I remember right.   Actually, we got them to go fishing and I just used the leftovers to start the worm bin.)  Armed with an article in Backwoods Home Magazine on getting started with vermiculture, which is unfortunately not available online, I set about putting in some moistened shredded newspaper for bedding, food scraps, and a little garden dirt in there, along with the worms, and waited for the magic to happen. 

For a long time, nothing interesting seemed to be happening.  The worms seemed to be happy enough, going about their wormy business.  Food scraps would eventually disappear.  All seemed to be good in worm town.  Then we moved. 

I decided to put the worm bin under the kitchen sink, with the idea it would be easy to toss the veggie scraps or whatever in there right when I needed to.  However, it was a tight squeeze to get it in there, so I didn't like opening it to put the scraps in very much.  I found that I was more likely to put larger batches of things in, rather than several small batches.  And then the flies came.  My neglect and sporadic feeding of the worms apparently set about a lovely environment for fruit flies to breed.  And breed they did!  I was able to eliminate them eventually by vacuuming up all the ones I found flying around the house...and pulling out the worm bin and putting it above the washer and dryer where I could monitor the worm/fly situation more closely.  I also decided to purposely not feed them for a while, in the hopes that if the flies didn't have anything to eat, maybe they would disappear and just hoped that the worms could outlast the flies in that regard.  It seemed to work, and I recently learned that it is actually a good idea to let your worm bin "rest" so they can thoroughly process the existing material (ie eat their own poop apparently.  Eeeew!) from time to time.  The first time I found a worm on top of the dryer, I decided that if the worms were starting to crawl out, maybe they were getting hungry and I should feed them again.  I hadn't seen any fruit flies in a while, so it seemed my evil plot had worked.

Then strawberries went on sale for $1 a pound.  Usually, I try to only buy and/or pick local strawberries, where I can talk to the people that grew them and find out exactly what toxins (hopefully none!) were dumped on them in an effort to get a good crop, but winter had been dragging on much, much too long and I was getting depressed and I figured some strawberry therapy was just what I needed, so I bought 13 pounds.  Why 13 pounds?  Because I had $13.  Anyhoo, I stayed up late one night cutting off the stems and cutting them into pieces and making my mostly healthy fruit far less healthy by dumping sugar on them to bring the juices out.  Fortunately, I had news coverage of a potential core meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant to keep my mind occupied while I was doing this...and mindlessly threw all the stems and icky parts of the strawberries to the worms.

It occurred to me the other day that maybe that wasn't such a good idea and I probably didn't really have a worm bin anymore, rather a large colony of aspergillus or some other super fun mold hanging out over my washer and dryer.  Rather alarmed by this notion, I immediately pulled down the again neglected worm bin.  Instead of the feared mold, I found that the strawberries had broken down into a very, very liquidy mud.  In fact, there was standing water in my worm bin.  I panicked.

I called for the kids to immediately come help me tear up some more newspaper to absorb all that moisture, never once thinking until afterwords that if the worms were still alive, there probably was no need to panic because they'd probably be okay for a few minutes longer.  We got some newspaper in there, I've been trying to feed them just small, frequent meals now, so hopefully everything is okay now.  I did a population check the other day and discovered that there are about twice as many worms as I started with in there.  There probably should be a lot more, but, obviously, I suck at vermiculture.
The boys tearing up newspaper for our vermicomposting emergency

I want to get better.  Really, I do.  I've heard that worm castings are like plant crack, and that sounds like a good thing, right?  Plus, if we have a great worm population, I could "harvest" some of them to go fishing this year instead of buying bait.  So I've been doing a bit more research and I'm going to start to try to take the lives of my little wormies a bit more seriously.  I discovered a great blog all about worm composting the other day, so I'll be reading that frequently, I think, to make sure my worms can end up being all that they can be.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Meatless Monday--Ratatouille on Rice

This is one of my absolute favorite meals, but, unfortunately, no one else in my house likes it, so I only get to eat it very rarely.  It would be a great dish to serve for vegetarian or even vegan company (minus the feta) though.  One of the reasons I'm sharing this right now is that most of this can be grown in a home garden, which makes it a super cheap meal, even with the feta cheese in there, and it's time to get planting if you haven't already!  (The other reason I made it is that my husband irritated me last week when I was making the meal plan for the week, so I made something I really love that I knew he hated.  Never piss off the person in charge of making your meals!  MUHAHAHA!)

Ratatouille on Rice

1 medium onion, chopped
¾ tsp garlic powder or 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large potato, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 medium eggplant, cut into l inch cubes
1 28-oz can petite diced tomatoes, juice reserved (or equivalent home canned)
1 ½ cups water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 medium to large zucchini or summer squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh dill or 1 tsp dried dill
Ground black pepper to taste
Cooked rice
Feta cheese crumbles

In a large pot, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until just soft. Add the potato, eggplant, juice from tomatoes, water, salt, and rosemary. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered until potatoes start to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the squash and bell pepper. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, and dill. Simmer an additional 5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add pepper to taste. Serve on rice, topped with the feta cheese.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

How I Plan My Garden

I'm not going to say this is the only way to plan a garden, or even the best way, but this is how I planned my garden this year.  It is quite a daunting task to turn an entire trailer park lot, no matter how small it is, into a garden, ideally without getting into trouble with the park management.  This is how I've handled it.

First, I made a list of all the fruits and vegetables my family enjoys and eats on a regular enough basis.  Then, I crossed off the things that I couldn't grow this year because it would cost too much to get started, like trees that I could grow in pots outside (not going to leave any of my plants here when we move!), or things that just won't grow in Michigan.  Once I had a fairly realistic list of what I wanted, I looked in the refrigerator to see what sees I had left from last year and checked them off my list.  Then, I asked some other gardeners if they had a few seeds to trade or give me of the things I was missing.  The few things I didn't have after that, I ordered from Seed Savers, in the hopes that I'll be able to save seeds I harvest for use next year and not have to purchase seeds ever again for a lot of the plants.

Next, I drew out a rough diagram of where I was going to plant each kind of plant.  I decided to plant the things I could get into the ground first, like spinach, onions, snap peas, and carrots in the garden boxes I already had put together so I could get them planted as soon as possible.  When the weather warmed enough that I could start planting, I largely ignored my plans and filled as much available space with seeds as I could, keeping in mind how long they would take to be ready to harvest and whether that would interfere with what I'd originally planned for that space.  For example, up against the house, I want sunflowers for most of the season, but I planted spinach in that area for now with the idea that the baby spinach will be ready to harvest before the last frost, when the sunflowers can go out.

Then, as the last frost date creeps closer and closer, I had an inspiration.  I thought to myself that, if the Three Sisters grow well with the beans climbing up the corn, maybe something could grow on the sunflowers too.  I discovered that, indeed, cucumbers and melons do well growing in and among sunflowers...or corn.  Then it occurred to me that maybe corn and sunflowers would also do well together and I could plant my Blue Jade corn, which only grows 3 ft high, on the west side of the sunflowers and they would both get the light they need and be a good use of space.  This should create a fairly thick wall of vegetation to be kind of natural(ish) wall to keep the kids in the yard, without violating the park's rules about not having actual fences.  I finished digging the trench for this plant party today, stepped back, took a look, and decided that the fence really should curve around and create a barrier at the end of the driveway to further conceal what all is going on in my yard.  With this in mind, and keeping in mind that my spinach and lettuce planters would have to move off the patio at some point, since I'll need that space for the ground cherries, I decided that those planters would work well as such a barrier.  I thought tomatoes in buckets might go nicely behind them, but then I realized that the bright orange buckets might not be the most aesthetically pleasing thing there, so something short should go in front of them.  Another perfect spot for more Blue Jade corn!  I put my plan into action and got the area all ready...and got a lovely farmer's tan started for the year in the process!

I'll now use this as the basis for figuring out where the next area, probably a Three Sisters "mound", once I figure out how much of a pathway I want to leave.  I'll use that to gauge where the next area should be, and the next.  Along the way, I'll figure out where to put any extra seedlings I have, since I seem to have way more seedlings started than I originally figured space for (what can I say?  I get excited!).  I swear, every time I look, it seems to me that I have more space to fill, but, believe me, I'll find a way to fill it!  I don't believe in lawns, and we don't have a lawn mower, just a weed whacker, so I'm strongly motivated to make the most of my limited space--and grow as much as I can on my trailer park homestead!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's Not Earth Day Anymore

Earth Day is over.  People that can afford to not care about the environment and can go back to living their consumer-driven lives, spending away and throwing things away willy-nilly, feeling satisfied that they "did their part" by planting a tree yesterday or doing some other little token activity to celebrate Earth Day.  For the rest of us, Earth Day, to some extent, is largely just another day.  We live our lives in a way that makes a softer impact on the Earth, either because we financially have to or because we choose to, for whatever reason.  Sure, we all have some area or areas to improve on, but we do what we can with what we've got.

Here are some of the ways that the readers of this blog save money and live lighter on this Earth, making every day Earth Day:

  • magreen said... I'm pretty sure there isn't a chemical that can't be swapped out for white vinegar ;-) 
  • ginariffel said... We have a garden in the summer but we are now expanding it this year and I'm learning to preserve our bounty with canning. I have been taking many classes through volunteers of america on gardening, planting trees and a variety of other "homesteading" interests.  
  • Elizabeth W. said... carpooling to work..
  • ladybugsmom said... I make my own laundry detergent which really saves money and helps with my family's sensitive skin 
  • Fragmentary Green said...The most dramatic change in my life was switching to reusable menstrual products. It's made me so much happier, because my cup works better for me than leaky tampons and smelly plastic pads ever did. Now that I'm off of hbc and my cycle is irregular again, it's been a lifesaver. 
  • Dusti said... We're working towards becoming modern homesteaders :) I blog about it at <3 
  • Crysta said... We are blessed to live within walking distance of two of the three schools my children attend. We invest in umbrellas, walking shoes and snow gear instead of filling up the gas tank so often. We save the environment, save money, get excersize every day and promote emotional well-being by spending quality time, usually one on one, with each other on the walks. Earth Day, every day, no matter what the weather!! 
  • Green Lifestyle Consulting shared a link of a blog post they wrote called:  Saving the Planet: One Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie at a Time
  • Jessica L. will be starting her first garden this year.
Thanks for sharing your tips, everyone and be sure to check out my Facebook page to see who won the book give away!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Non-toxic Cream of Mushroom Soup

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't use the cheap-o cream of mushroom soup you can buy at the store because of its MSG content, an ingredient that I don't feel should be in my family's food and the higher quality cream of mushroom soup is just too expensive for my budget.  This has saddened me for a while, since there are a couple recipes I really like that must have cream of mushroom soup in them.  I finally decided to do something about this and came up with my own cream of mushroom soup recipe.  Added bonus:  this version is a lot more flavorful than the canned gunk, without all the nasty additives!
I took a picture of the mushrooms I used rather than the actual soup, because the soup itself is a gray goo and not very appetizing looking.  It is quite tasty though!
The cost of this recipe really depends on what price you can get the mushrooms at (sales, grow your own, wild foraging?), so I'm not as excited about this version as I'm sure I will be about my Cream of Mushroom Soup 2.0 recipe, since that will be fully explored this fall, pending the discovery of some puffball mushrooms.  If I can find some of those, and if this recipe ends up freezing well (I have some of batch 1.0 in the freezer now to fully explore that), I plan on making a mega batch of it using the puffball mushrooms in the hopes of having a year supply of cream of mushroom soup for almost free!  Other wild foraged mushrooms would probably work as well, but puffball mushrooms are the only one that I can identify well enough to even consider wild foraging for some. 

Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp diced onions
1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and cut up
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 cups milk (I used whole)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and saute onions over medium heat.  Put the mushrooms and lemon juice in a food processor and coarsely chop.  Add the mushroom mixture, thyme, and bay leaf to the onions and continue sauteing for another 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid from the mushrooms disappears.  Add the salt, pepper, milk, and chicken stock; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Combine the cornstarch and water in a separate small cup.  Add the cornstarch mixture and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly.  

This recipe creates such a flavorful soup that it probably wouldn't be bad by itself.  To use it in recipes, 1 cup is all you need (maybe even less?) to get the cream of mushroom flavor you are looking for in the recipe.  Add another 1/4 cup of liquid (milk, cream, or water) to make up the difference in the amount of liquid if that matters in the recipe you are using it in.

I'm hoping you'll be able to find this recipe and lots of other great real food recipes in the Fresh Bites Friday linky for today at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

And MORE April Showers Bring Cabin Fever--A Trailer Park Homestead update

It has been way too cold and rainy lately.  Right now, as I write this, it is the warmest time of day, and it is 40 degrees and windy out.  Yuck.  I even woke up to a couple inches of snow on the ground the other day.  I decided that it had to be a bad dream and took a nap at the earliest possible opportunity.  When I woke up, it was all melted, so I might be inclined to really think it was a bad dream, if so many other people hadn't seen the same thing!  Since then, it's been raining pretty much every day.  Ugh.  It is supposed to be sunny today, so maybe I'll finally get a chance to do something outside, like get my mounds ready for the Three Sisters, since I probably need to get the soil ready for that soon.  Here's this week's roundup of what's going on at the Trailer Park Homestead so far though:

We've been getting so much rain that even things that should drain well, like this pot, sometimes are getting standing water in them!
Is it me, or does my broccoli look sad?  I don't think it liked the snow.  More spinach poking up here though!
More spinach in the box on the right...and apparently a local church laid an egg in the box on the left!
Some of my peas are finally starting to peek up!
My St. Patty's Day patch is finally starting to look like something.  Still no sign of the carrots I planted though.  I think they rotted or something ate them.  Probably should replant today.  Spinach and onions are up though!
It looks like the mystery plants grew, so that looks like these may be day lilies as the Master Gardener I consulted by phone thought they might be, and not something that I was going to kill by moving this time of year.  Good!  So I can move more to the front of the yard to hid my somewhat clandestine homestead!
I was so pleased with how well the chives are doing that.....
they ended up being part of the first dinner to have something from the garden in it for the year!  We had pan-fried tilapia, corn on the cob, and sour cream and chive mashed potatoes.  Sadly, the fish, corn, and sour cream were all from the store.  Always room for improvement, I guess!
The current seed nursery in my t-shirt drawer.  There are cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkin, zucchini, and blue hubbard squash in that bag.  I just need to figure out what to do with them when they start sprouting since I'm out of peat pots.  I'm leaning toward egg shells for at least some of them, but I'm also considering newspaper pots or a couple other things.  Time will tell what I decide to do...and them my blog will share that info!
The ground cherries had an awesome germination rate, so now I think I'm going to have way too many ground cherry plants!  Maybe I'll give some away or sell some at the community wide yard sale coming up....or maybe I'll just plant them all and have a lot to make into jams or other interesting things to eat!
My tomato plants are going nuts!  I think I'm going to need to lower the shelf they are on again, since some of the plants are bumping the light!
I almost have a salad in my indoor lettuce planter!  Actually, I probably do have a whole salad for one person, but since the kids would expect me to share...probably should hold off a while longer!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Purple French Fries

My mother-in-law gave me a deep fryer for Christmas.  It wasn't something I thought I would really use, since I only deep fry things upon occasion.  I did find one reason to keep it around (okay, really two, since it is actually easier to make my egg rolls in it too, but I digress...)--purple French fries!  My mom grew a bunch of blue potatoes last year and they make great fries, although they are more purple than blue.  The kids go nuts when they see I'm going to make them.  I don't let them have artificial colors, so anytime I give them a strange colored treat, it is a truly special thing for them.  I always include at least one or two white potatoes with the purple ones for fries, since the kids seem to think that is funny and it makes it even more exciting for them.
A kid's dream meal: shredded BBQ chicken sandwich, purple French fries, sliced apples, and raw carrots

By making French fries from scratch, it gives me a lot more control over the quality than restaurant or store bought fries, with their mysterious additives and questionable sodium content.  With these fries, there is only three ingredients:  homegrown potatoes, vegetable oil for frying, and sea salt (because I only use sea salt.  Staying healthy saves money in the long run!).  For years, I struggled to get that perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside fry.  Now that I have discovered the secret (it was hidden inside the deep fryer's instruction manual!), I will share it with you, so that you may know the joy of purple French fries...or at least super cheap yet exceptionally high quality homemade French fries!

 Purple French Fries

4-5 purple potatoes
1-2 white potatoes
vegetable oil for frying (enough to submerge fries)
sea salt, to taste

Peel and cut potatoes to desired shape (sticks or circles) and thickness, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Soak in hot tap water for at least 15 minutes.  While the potatoes are soaking, heat oil to 340 degrees.  Thoroughly dry the potatoes and fill frying basket no more than half full.  Slowly lower the fry basket into the oil.  If it starts to bubble too much, bring the basket back up until the oil calms down then try lowering it again.  Repeat as needed until the fry basket is completely lowered into the oil.  If you are using a deep fryer, lower the cover and fry the potatoes for 6 to 7 minutes.  Let the fries drain and cool for 10 minutes to up to 2 hours.  Heat the oil to 375 degrees and fry for an additional 10 to 12 minutes right before serving.  Salt to taste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Earth Day Every Day ****contest closed****

A lot of people seem to think that protecting our environment is an elitist thing, or that you have to spend a lot of money to do so.  I've found the opposite to be true!  Usually, the cheapest option is the most environmentally friendly, in my experience!  To illustrate this, here are some of posts that could probably be considered the most environmental in nature:
And a lot of the other posts have an environmental undertone as well (like Opting Out of the American Dream).  As you can see, to a large degree, I try to live every day like it is Earth Day and save a ton of money in the process.

The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a TimeI'd like to hear some of the ways you treat every day like Earth Day, and I'm not above bribery to do it!  So, as a bribe and to celebrate my being recognized as one of Circle of Moms Top 25 Eco-friendly Moms, I'll be giving away a copy of The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time.   To enter, just leave a comment either here or on my Facebook page sharing a favorite "green" tip.  The winner of the book will be chosen randomly from all responses Friday, April 22 (Earth Day) at midnight EDT and will be announced on my Facebook page shortly thereafter.  Good luck!

Monday, April 18, 2011

My Meal Master List

By request, this week's Meatless Monday post has been postponed, probably until next week, since Meatless Tuesday just sounds weird.  Instead, I have been asked to share my Meal Master List, since that is the basis from which I make my meal plans and ultimately one half of the secret to super cheap eating (the other half of the secret is growing it or making it yourself).  Don't fret though:  if you are depending on my Meatless Monday posts for meatless ideas, there are still meatless meal ideas here!

The Meal Master List is an ever evolving document, as I decide I don't like certain things anymore, or I introduce new recipes to my repertoire.  Right now, I'm actually undergoing a sort of shift of what I'm including in my Master List, so this may be a shorter list than usual, but I'm adding new recipes all the time and plan on posting them here as I discover new treasures.  Recipes that I've already posted include links to that recipe and I'll try to keep that updated in the future, so you may want to bookmark this post!

As of today, April 18, 2011, this is my Master List (note: if vegetables aren't part of the entree listed, I serve them with whatever veggies I have on hand that sound good.  ALL meals include at least one vegetable in my house!):

cheese enchiladas
cheese enchiladas
black beans & rice
fettichini alfredo
cheese lasagna
spinach & feta quiche
broccoli & cheddar quiche
vegetable lasagna
ratatouille on rice
veggie stew w/dumplings
grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
baked macaroni and cheese
corn & potato chowder
cheese quesadillas

baked chicken, sweet potatoes, and green beans
roast chicken, potatoes, and carrots
chicken stew w/dumplings
Chicken stew w/dumplings
chicken fried rice
breaded chicken & potatoes au gratin
chicken teriyaki
chicken fajitas
chicken and asparagus stir-fry
baked chicken on rice
chili rice w/chicken
chicken egg rolls
foil-wrapped dinner
broccoli, cheddar, potato, and chicken soup
chicken, broccoli, and cheese casserole
chicken pot pie
"chickenherder's" pie

tuna casserole
shrimp scampi & linguine
tuna melt
fried tilapia
tuna melts
tuna casserole
cold tuna pasta salad

Ground meat

Mexican egg rolls
soft taco casserole
meatball stroganoff
salisbury meatballs
meatballs & spaghetti
meatballs in brown gravy with mashed potatoes
baked goulash
"beef" pie
chili pie
lasagna roll-ups
meat lasagna
stuffed peppers
zucchini casserole
sloppy joes

quiche lorraine
Pork-like products
quiche lorraine
potato, ham, and cheese casserole

If there is anything on this list that looks particularly good to you, but it doesn't have a link to a recipe, please let me know, either in the comments here or on my Facebook page, and I'll make an effort to get that recipe posted as soon as I can!  Bon appétit!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Quiche Lorraine

My husband has a bad habit of cooking too much bacon when he makes breakfasts on the weekends, so I have a tendency to sneak a few pieces out of the pile and stick them in the freezer to make this.  Saves the bacon from being wasted and saves me from having to cook bacon to make this!  This recipe can easily be made vegetarian by using fake bacon (actually, I've found this to be the one way that vegetarian bacon actually tastes good!).

This pairs nicely with salad or sliced tomatoes for dinner or with fruit for breakfast.

Quiche Lorraine

2 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
6 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
8 slices bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground red pepper

 Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and saute, for 4-5 minutes, until softened.  Remove from heat.  In a bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, bacon pieces, cheese, salt, pepper, and ground red pepper.  Stir in cooked onions.  Pour the egg mixture into the piecrust and spread evenly.  Bake for 30 minutes, until puffed, lightly browned and the center is set.  Let stand 5-10 minutes before cutting.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Nursing Necklaces *****contest closed******

My first guest blog post is courtesy of Donna West, mother of nursling Willow and a satisfied customer of a friend of mine, Lori of Lori's Nursing Necklaces.  As someone that has sacrificed quite a few necklace chains to nursling's tugs and pulls and whose body has borne more than a couple scratches from fiddling fingers and who currently has somewhat decorated skin from a nursling's fiddling with a pen (i.e. intentionally drawing on me!) while nursing, I can definitely see how one of these things would be worth its weight in gold to have!  Unfortunately, I only heard of them fairly recently, and I haven't had the funds to buy one, but I'm giving you the chance to win one!  So not only can you save your jewelry or skin, but you can do so for free!  Details of how to enter are at the end of the post.  Good luck!
photos courtesy of Lori's Nursing Necklaces
A friend asked me once about the necklace I wore while I nursed my daughter. I felt it was an odd question since she followed it up with doesn’t that cost a pretty penny just to have your child break it?  Funny thing is, it has been the best investment I have ever made!

My daughter loves to hold on to the necklace while we nurse, so I no longer get pinched, scratched or pulled on while nursing.  And since I am comfortable so is she.  The longer she nurses the less of a chance I will have to purchase a can of formula; which is a life saver when it comes to trying to save a bit of money!  As for it breaking, nope not going to happen!  The friend I bought it from has hers tested by the government so that I know it is safe for my daughter to play with.  Which is yet another way that she loves it and I save money.  It is one less toy I need to buy!  She loves to play with the colors, we will sit and talk about the different trinkets and animals on her necklace, we have a red giraffe and a purple rhino on ours.  We talk about the glittery blue butterfly as well, since right now, that is her favorite thing to chew on.  Yup, I have no problem letting her chew on it either!  I know that it is safe for her, in fact I have found myself at times when I am done nursing chewing on the red giraffe at times, it is a great stress reliever for myself as well! 

I will be honest, I never thought about all the great ways this necklace came to be a great help to my daughter and I until she posed that question.  I have even recommended them to other friends, and even given them as gifts I believe in the value of the necklace so much.  I could not see my nursing going as well as it has with my daughter without it, and I would not have it any other way.
 Makes you want one, doesn't it?  Even if you don't have a nursling yourself, this would make a great shower gift for an expectant mom!  Lori's Nursing Necklaces is giving away a gift certificate rather than an already made necklace so it can be customized for the winner to make it extra special.  How cool is that?  The winner will place an order for the necklace of their choosing at and enter the provided gift certificate code when prompted.

To enter, leave a comment on this blog post or "like" Lori's Facebook page and post there saying you heard about the contest on Adventures of a Thrifty Mama (if you could tag Adventures of a Thrifty Mama in that post, that would be very helpful to make sure we don't miss it!).  The contest closes Saturday April 30 at midnight (Eastern time zone), so there is plenty of time to tell all your friends about this great opportunity to win this awesome prize!  The winner will be announced on my facebook page on Sunday May 1.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Best $10 I've Never Spent

On one of the Facebook pages I'm on, the administrator recently asked "What would you do if you had $100 to spend, but you couldn't spend it on yourself, your family, or your friends?"  There were all sorts of responses about giving to various charities, to help out various causes, but my answer was a little bit different.  I answered that I would use that money to buy seeds and start a community garden in a low income area.  I was thinking that maybe that hypothetical community garden could be used as a launching point to teach local people to grow their own food and give them the tools and the power to never go hungry again.
My oldest son helping out at a community garden we were involved with last year
The next day, she asked a little different question.  She asked "If you had $10 to spend, but you couldn't spend it on yourself, your family, or your friends, what would you do with it?"  A lot of people made the comment along the lines of "well that isn't a lot of money" and their ideas got smaller, heading down the directions of giving it to some random individual, maybe a homeless person or a child.  My idea, on the other hand, got bigger!  I figured $10 isn't really enough to get a whole community garden started, but the seeds of self-sufficiency could still be planted in the heads of people that need it the most.  My idea:  "I'd buy seeds for high yield plants like zucchini or tomatoes or ground cherries, find donations of five gallon buckets from bakeries or such, get a municipality to donate compost to fill the buckets, and get the seeds started. Then, after the last frost, I'd load up all the plants and take them down to a food pantry and start passing out container gardens, 2-3 plants per family, so that they would have enough food to eat later in the summer that they might be able to skip a week or two at the food pantry and maybe even have some to share with neighbors!"

My idea isn't really particularly original.  I was actually a recipient of a similar program last year, in which I received a tomato plant and a pepper plant, both of which did quite well in their containers and is a large part of why I expanded my gardening efforts so much from my original two 4x4 boxes into a large variety of containers last year, but among the responses to the original poster's question it was unique in that it turned that little $10 into something much, much larger. 
The two plants in the foreground in the picture are the ones I received from the "Big Seed" program last year.  The ex-kitty litter buckets that they were lovingly decorated by elementary school students as part of the project.  I treasure the containers, even though the plants have lived out their lives and I will be using them again this year!
The thing that impressed me the most about my answer is that I came up with it before my morning shower.  I usually don't think so well before my morning shower and, once I had my shower, I actually came up with a few reasons why I couldn't do this myself at this point at time, because, really, $10 isn't that much.  Economically, it should be quite feasible, even for someone as chronically broke as me!  However, I really don't have the space in my tiny single wide trailer for all those seedlings.  Nor am I familiar enough with the surrounding community to procure the buckets, soil, or even know where there is a food bank around here that might be open to joining for such a project.  (It also occurred to me that perhaps ground cherries wouldn't be such a good addition to such a project, since you need at least two plants so they can cross-pollinate in order to get a decent crop and most people who'd be receiving these plants probably wouldn't be familiar with ground cherries and so they wouldn't realize what a treasure they were receiving, but, really, that's a mere quibble, which is why I stuck it in a major run-on sentence in parentheses.  I also later realized that I left out the part about drilling holes in the buckets so they would have good drainage.  Anyhoo...)  I realized, however, that this would be a fantastic service project for a group such as a church, scout troop, or school that wanted to make a real difference in their community without having to spend a lot of money to do it.  So, I decided to blog about it, hoping that someone would "steal" my idea and put it in action (and, yes, I will be sharing this with my church as well).  If anyone does, please leave a comment here telling us about it or share it on my Facebook page.  I'd love to hear if this seed of an idea germinates into some positive change for the world, one pot at a time!