Sunday, July 31, 2011

Zucchini Alfredo

This probably could be made with less milk to make a creamed zucchini side dish, and I'm actually thinking about baking the leftovers as a casserole type thing to serve as a side dish with chicken in a couple days, but, as is, goes great over pasta!  Yay for another way to use the zucchini that magically appear on people's doorsteps and inside unlocked cars this time of year!  I just came up with this recipe, but, based on similar recipes, I bet it would freeze well for those nights that you don't want to have to or don't have time to cook or it could be frozen in individual portions to take to work for lunches.

A word of warning:  fresh basil is necessary for this recipe, so don't try to throw in some dried and complain it doesn't taste good!  Pesto might work if no fresh is available, but I don't know for sure.

When I made this last night, I used zucchini from a friend's garden (thanks, Lee R.) and carrots, onion, and basil from mine, so the whole meal, including the whole wheat angel hair pasta I served it on, cost less than $4 to feed the family!  Plus, as I mentioned, there was a fair amount leftover, since we found it to be quite filling, so I'll probably serve that as a side in a couple days (or freeze it for even longer?), so really what we ate tonight was probably about $2-2.50 worth of food! 

 Zucchini Alfredo

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
2 medium zucchini, shredded
3-5 carrots, shredded
1 cup milk
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Saute onion and garlic for about 5 minutes.  Mix in zucchini and carrots;  cook about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the moisture has boiled off.   Add milk and stir in cream cheese until melted.  Stir in basil, lemon juice, cayenne, salt, pepper, and Parmesan. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gearing Up for Not-Back-to-School

This year, like every year, I am faced with the question of how do I get started homeschooling this year.  I kind of look at each school year as a separate adventure, although some of it may be similar from year to year.  I think I finally have a system down for figuring it out now though.
Homeschool central in my living room.  The top shelf pictured contains musical instruments and reference books such as dictionaries.  Next down are wooden puzzles for the younger kids (placed up high to discourage dumping, but it doesn't really work since the kids climb), math manipulatives, and other materials such as bean bags and crayons that can be useful for a variety of activities.  Next down is my son's shelf, which contains a variety of puzzle books, magazines, early readers, a binder for loose worksheets, and workbooks.  The bottom pictured is my daughter's shelf which contains a large box of paper for all the kids to use as they would like (reused paper.  The other side has printing on it already.), some high interest books to look at to stimulate her mind and imagination, her binder for loose worksheets (and coloring pages), and a stack of workbooks and coloring books.  Not pictured is the top of the shelf, which contains supplies such as construction paper, software, and "teacher" stuff and the bottom shelf, which is the toddler's and contains a variety of toys to stimulate his cute little brain.  Next to the shelf, you can see a loveseat, perfect for snuggling while studying or just reading together and an alphabet chart for reference by the kids.  This entire area is right next to the kitchen counter, where we usually do "school".
  • Step 1:  Clean and organize the house.  How do I know what I need if I don't know what I have?  I might think I have something and it turns out it is broken or crucial pieces are missing, if everything isn't in its place when figuring out my plan for the year.
  • Step 2:  Figure out what our objectives are.  My main objective for the school year for my 6 year old is to get him reading proficiently and writing comfortably, so most things for him will gear around this.  My main goal for my 4 year old is for her to master the alphabet, to write her name, and be able to count consistently at least to 10, so her materials and lessons will center around these.  For science, social studies, and other such subjects, I will largely be leaving it to their interests this year, so the specific objectives for those subjects will be developed in...
  • Step 3:  Find out what the kids want to do.  I have a ton of books with craft and activities for kids in them, mostly from, so I plan on sitting down with the older kid and figure out what looks fun.  I'll then use those things as a framework to figure out what we'll learn about.
  • Step 4:  Find out what is going on in the community.  We live near a very homeschool friendly city, so I'll be looking into activities at the museums and other places to see what will fit with what we want to do.  I may also use some of these things, like the homeschool science days as the children's museum to figure out more lesson themes.
  • Step 5:  Decide what we are actually going to do.  Being thrifty as I am, I'm not going to be buying a curriculum, so I'll be putting together a loose curriculum based on the things I mentioned before.
  • Step 6:  Figure out what we need to get.  Shortly before the beginning of each school year, I post a list of the things we want or need for supplies, whether it be normal things like construction paper or unusual things like toilet paper tubes or more toy-like things like puzzles on our local Freecycle group.  I also will let friends and relatives know so they can keep their eyes out for freebies or cheapies at yard sales or whatever.  I also watch for them at yard sales, which is part of why I start thinking no later than the end of July, rather than waiting until the beginning of September when schools start up around here.  As a last resort, I'll buy the things we absolutely need, but if I can hold out until after schools start up, I try to so I can cash in on back-to-school clearance sales, rather than paying full- or even regular sale prices for things!
To keep puzzles organized, I labeled each piece and the puzzle with a number and put the pieces in a plastic bag in a bin out of the reach of the toddler, so he can't just knock the puzzle holder with all its puzzle pieces on the floor for an instant mess.
So there you have it, my thrifty guide to not going back to school.  It is not the only way to do things and I don't claim it is "the best" but it works for my family.  That's one of the best things about homeschooling: we can always do what's best for our family.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Super-Duper Easy, Quick Fried Rice

I love fried rice because it is easy, quick, cheap (since we use homegrown veggies, eggs from a relative, and venison sausage that my husband hunted up, about the only things we are paying for are the tiny bit of chicken, soy sauce, and rice, which is, of course, cheap as heck as well!) and a great way to use leftover rice and meat.  This meal can be whipped up in about 10 minutes as long as the rice and meat were already cooked!  We really like it with chicken and sausage, but you can switch out the meats, maybe use fish instead of chicken, or leave it out altogether to suit your needs.  I always try to make extra so my husband can take it to work for lunches, but I never seem to make that much extra, it disappears so fast!  It freezes pretty well as is, but freezes even better without the egg, so if you were to make a large batch of this to freeze, for future meals, you might want to set apart the part to freeze before adding the egg and just cook the egg when it is ready to be served, or skip the egg altogether.

Chicken & Sausage Fried Rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen carrots
2 eggs (optional)
2-3 cups cooked rice
1/4 cup soy sauce (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup cooked chicken pieces
1/2 cup cooked sausage pieces

Heat oil in a large pan or wok.  Saute onion, peas, and carrots about 5 minutes.  Add rice, soy sauce, and meats.  Heat while stirring until rice reaches desired color and everything is heated through.  While it is heating, scramble eggs and fry in a separate frying pan.  Add cut eggs into small pieces and add to rice right before serving. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Fall Planting is DONE--a mini-Trailer Park Hometead update

My little helper pulled out 2 onions by himself!  Both of them knocked him backwards, he had to pull so hard to get them out of the ground!
I may be a bit behind my self-imposed (well, maybe Mother Nature imposed, but whatever.  I have ways to thwart her for a while when it comes to gardening!) timetable for getting the fall planting done, but I did it!  Well, mostly did it.  I got everything in the ground that needs to go in the ground, but I still have some containers to fill once I pick up some more compost from a friend's house.  I'm not too worried about getting such a late start on those though, since I can haul them inside on cold nights, either the house or garage, depending on how much I value them to avoid nasty freezes that would kill off the frost resistant cold weather crops that I'm planting now, as weird as that seems with the next few days to be forecasted to be in the 90s again!

I started the day with the brilliant idea that I should clean out the worm bin.  We've been getting some horrid little fly things in our bathroom lately, which is right across the hall from the laundry area, where the worm bin was stored (that's right: I said was).  I figured if I cleaned it out, I could get rid of any nasty flies, maggots, and anything else in there, use the castings in the garden to refertilize areas that had something just growing in them, then start the worm bin fresh ucky-critter-free.  When I went through the slimy (hint that something was seriously wrong!) contents of the bin, I only found one worm!  There were bunches just a few months ago, but I managed to kill them all off (wormicide?  Wormslaughter?  Does this carry criminal penalties, and if so, should I really be talking about it on my blog?).  I figured with just one bad-boy (girl?  Both?  Not sure how that really works with worms, since you can't see any dangly bits to tell you) wormy in there, it probably hadn't properly taken care of...whatever I put in there, I probably should just toss the whole mess, worm and all, in the regular compost bin outside and let nature take its course out there.  I'll try again with vermicomposting in the winter, when I have more time and don't want to be running outside all the time to take out compostables!

Fortunately, at this point I still had some alternative compost I could use to add nutrients back to the soil, so I happily (no remorse!  Didn't even mourn the poor critters!  That definitely sounds like maybe 3rd degree wormicide at least.  If it was wormslaughter, I think there would be some more remorse) started harvesting and ripping out plants that no longer served a purpose (the heat wave last week turned all my lettuce super bitter!), making room for the fall planting (that I was terribly behind on).  I ended up pulling the second to last broccoli plant, the last of the peas (just left there for seed anyway) and harvesting a couple gallon buckets of onions, about a quart of carrots, 8-9 cucumbers, a few handfuls of ground cherries, a tiny head of broccoli (soup!  Yay!), a zucchini, and about a pint of beans.
Many beans, ground cherries, and cucumbers were gobbled right off the plants and so are not pictured here
Since it is supposed to rain the next few days, I spread the onions out on my work area in the garage to cure before putting them away...somewhere for long term storage.  I probably should figure out where I'm going to keep them for the long haul sometime in the next few days!
Overall, I'd say that isn't too bad for such a tiny area to garden.  Especially when you consider that many of my larger crops of things such as tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, potatoes, and ground cherries either are just starting or haven't ripened at all yet!

Once I got the areas that had the ripped out cleaned up, weeded, and put some fresh compost down, I planted a bunch of carrots, spinach (okay, that isn't late at least, but I'm hoping to be able to freeze some for this winter, so was hoping to sneak in at least a couple plantings of the stuff), and snap peas.  I also transplanted the cabbage and broccoli I had previously started (almost on time!) to their new spots in the garden.  So now I'm officially done!  I can sit back and relax *snort*...okay, we all know that isn't going to happen!  So now I'll work on other projects, probably mostly indoors with 90+ degree temps predicted for a few days and then it will be time to do more stuff outside, then inside, then outside....yeah, I don't know the meaning of relaxing, do I?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wasted Opportunities--A Trailer Park Homestead update & dreams for the future

When people encounter my "jungle" of a garden, either in person or via video tour, they seem to tend to notice the amble vegetation that dominates my modest-sized landscape.  I, on the other hand, tend to be ever critical and notice the areas that I could have planted something, but didn't for whatever reason.  To be fair, with this being the first year I've gardened at this location, and actually my first time gardening in the ground as well as in raised beds and containers, I wasn't sure about the spacing of some things, so may have erred on the side of caution this year, plus, when I started in the spring, the area behind the house was dominated by a gianormous evergreen of some sort and a wild compost bin.  Since the tree was taken out, I've cleaned up the area (and found some stay basil growing, which I relocated to basil-designated locations) considerably, but haven't really taken advantage of the new land available.

We haven't decided yet whether we'll be renewing our lease here for next year (so if someone knows of a better property we could rent with 20 minutes or so of Howell, Michigan for about $550 a month or less, let me know!), but I'm kind of keeping in mind what I might do for next year if we do decide to stay.  Here are some of those ideas:

In a perfect world, I'd probably either keep bees back here, or have a wonderful, relaxing oasis with a park bench for resting after a hard day in the garden next to a water feature that would include tilapia that we could then eat.  However, I'm pretty sure I couldn't get away with either of those things here, even if I did put up a privacy fence to separate it from the neighbor's yard (you can see the corner of their garage in the top of the picture to see how close that is).  Since the park manager said they'd "prefer" my large raised bed up front to be in the back, I'll probably move it back here for next year after I finish this year's harvest.
I left this area outside the back door intentionally clear as a children's play area, but they don't really use it.  No knowing this, I'd like to cover it with something edible.  Sweet potatoes, maybe?
This expanse of skirting in the front of the house looks rather nekkid to me.  I'm thinking of either extending the row of potted plants to go all the way across or dig out an actual narrow garden bed and plant sunflowers or something in it.  Sunflowers would definitely be cool there.  And no, that is not a green ball in the front yard.  That is a watermelon.

My idea for flowers in these mini-beds to camouflage the renegade veggies (and fruit) in the front yard.  They never grew big enough to hide anything and no one has had an issue with what's growing in the front yard (yet?), so I'll probably pull them and put something I like that is more useful.  Pansies, maybe?
I feel like I'm not utilizing this area to its full potential, probably because I can still see dirt in places.  That may change though, since not everything in here has reached full size.  I do like the tomatoes in there around the lamppost and the back of the bed.  I've read that tomatoes don't mind being in the same spot more than one year in a row, so that is an idea I might keep!
It probably wasn't the most efficient use of space to dedicate an entire garden bed to a "mystery plant" that, as it turns out, I'm pretty sure I don't need.  If it is what I'm 99.9% sure it is, I have plenty more of this growing elsewhere in the yard.  It would have been much more responsible, although probably not as much fun, to plant something I knew I could use here.
I know I wasted a lot of potential here too (don't mind the garden hose).  I'm thinking something nearly zero maintenance, yet extremely useful should go here--like maybe catnip.
The ground here was supposed to be covered with vining things like squashes, but they haven't been faring very well.  I think maybe winter squash just doesn't like being started indoors and so they were doomed from the beginning.  I'll probably plant a short growing crop here after this stuff is harvested this fall and try again with the same idea next year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blueberry Muffins

I'm pretty sure the only reason people buy muffin mixes is that they have no idea how easy it is to make them from scratch!  After all, look at the ingredient list from an inexpensive name brand of blueberry muffins that probably should remain nameless because they should totally be embarassed by this:

Seriously, ewwwww!  I can't even find blueberries on that list, can you?  Now compare that to the ingredient list of the recipe below in ingredient label format: 
Which would you rather eat?  (Note:  Because of a history of Alzheimer's in my family, I buy the aluminum free baking powder.  Your ingredients may vary on that one.  I'm thinking about not buying baking powder anymore after looking at that ingredient list and making my own though.)

And it isn't that it is harder to make the scratch muffins than the mix.  Here are the mix instructions:

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin pans or use paper baking cups.  Blend mix, egg, and milk. Batter will be slightly lumpy. Fill muffin cups 1/2 full.  Bake 13-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Except for a couple minor details, exactly the same as the recipe below, yet the homemade ones are healthier and cheaper!  Oh, yeah, and the homemade ones taste better too.

 Blueberry Muffins

1 egg
3/4 cup milk
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease bottom only of muffin cups.  Beat egg; mix in milk, blueberries, and vegetable oil. Add remaining ingredients all at once and mix until flour is just moistened.  Batter will be slightly lumpy. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full.  Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Zucchini Casserole

Last night, I could resist temptation no longer.  Even though it was still hot as Hades outside, I couldn't resist the appeal of zucchini casserole any longer.  I don't have any fresh tomatoes from the garden yet, so I used some canned tomatoes from last year (drained), and I didn't have any croutons so I substituted 1 cup cubed homemade bread (crusts removed) plus 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs.  It would have been better with the fresh tomatoes, but the canned tomatoes got the job done, so my belly was full and happy.  Not only that, but with the homemade bread, homegrown veggies, and venison that my husband got last fall, this entire meal cost less than $4 to feed the whole family.

Zucchini Casserole
1 lb ground meat
1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium to large zucchini, peeled and sliced
4-5 tomatoes, chopped
8 oz Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tbsp fresh basil (1 tsp basil)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cup seasoned croutons
1 tsp Parmesan cheese

Brown meat with onion and green pepper; drain off excess fat.  In a large bowl, combine zucchini, tomatoes, and cheddar.  Add meat mixture, basil, salt, pepper, and croutons.  Mix thoroughly (with hands if needed).  Pour into an ungreased 2-quart casserole dish and top with sprinkled Parmesan.  Bake uncovered at 350 for one hour.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

At one point in my life, when my oldest son was quite young, I had nearly perfected a almost entirely healthy oatmeal cookie that was little more than oats, fruit, and flour.  Unfortunately, I never wrote it down and then I went through a period of several years where I didn't bake any cookies.  During that time, I forgot the recipe and now it is lost.  I'll probably recreate it, maybe even come up with an even better version someday, but it probably won't be for a while yet, since right now it is impossible to keep bananas in the house for more than an hour or so before the kids gobble them up and one thing I do remember about that recipe is that it involved banana.  In the meantime, this is the recipe I use.  Not as healthy, but still tasty.  Like just about any recipe, the exact dried fruits and nuts used can vary depending on taste preference and what you have on hand.

Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cups walnuts, crushed

Heat oven to 375.  Mix all ingredients except oats, flours, cranberries, and nuts.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet or baking stone.  Bake about 10 minutes or until light brown.  Allow to cool on cookie sheet

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ants on a Log

Who needs an overpriced, unhealthy Misery Meal made from questionable (to be polite) ingredients by a fat food, er, I mean fast food place, when you can make this yummy, fun, and healthy treat for the kids (or yourself) for pennies?  As an added bonus, it doesn't come with a crappy, cheap (as in bad quality) toy designed to build brand awareness in kids and make them want to buy, buy, buy more cheap, plastic crap.

I generally make Ants on a Log with peanut butter and raisins, because that's what we have on hand, but any nut butter (or even cream cheese?) and dried fruits could be substituted.  The kids love helping to make these too, especially arranging the "bugs" on it.

Ants on a Log

 1/2-1 cucumber per serving
peanut butter 

Peel cucumber and cut long-ways down the middle.  Scoop out seeds and pat dry.  Spread peanut butter in the seed cavity and top with raisins as desired.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Egg Rolls

I grew cabbage this year for one reason and one reason only--chicken egg rolls!  Sure, I could cheat and buy some cole slaw mix at the store and save myself some growing, harvesting, and chopping and/or shredding of veggies, but what's the fun of that!  Last night, I had my first egg rolls with all homegrown veggies (the carrots were actually homegrown by my mom, but close enough).  With the homegrown veggies, the cost of the whole meal, about 21 egg rolls in total (3 or 4 makes a nice sized meal.  Serve them with rice to make them go even farther, but my family won't eat the rice when it is competing with these egg rolls), is under $4!  I could make it even cheaper by baking them in the oven rather than frying them in the vegetable oil, but they don't taste nearly as good that way.  To do that, lightly spray egg rolls with cooking spray, place on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Nothing says these absolutely have to be chicken egg rolls.  If you want, you could easily substitute pork or shrimp...or leave out meat all together for a vegetarian version!  I use chicken though, since it is cheap, tasty, and is a great way to use the bits that might otherwise go to waste when boiling a chicken for stock.

These egg rolls reheat well in the oven.  They can be reheated in the microwave (my husband does it all the time at work), but the texture gets really wonky, so being the food snob that I am, I'll only eat them out of the oven anymore.  Hey, what's the point of being a great cook if you have to eat mediocre food, right?

Chicken Egg Rolls

Homegrown veggie mix!
1 small cabbage, chopped
3-5 carrots, shredded
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp garlic powder (adjust to taste)
1 tsp ground ginger (adjust to taste)
1 cup cooked chicken piece
1 pkg egg roll wrappers
oil for frying

Combine cabbage, carrots, and onion in a large bowl.  Heat olive oil in a wok or large skillet.  Saute the vegetable combination until volume reduced by about half.  Add seasonings and chicken pieces.  Mix thoroughly then remove from heat.

Place about 2 tbsp of  mixture into the center of an egg roll wrapper. Use a spoon, basting brush, or your clean finger to moisten the corners of the egg roll wrapper with water. Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper tightly over the mixture, then fold in the sides, then the top corner. Repeat with the rest of the egg roll wrappers.  If there is leftover filling when you are out of wrappers, it can be frozen for future use (just thaw and use).

Pour vegetable oil into a deep frying pan to a depth of 3 or 4 inches or use a deep fryer. Heat to 350 degrees (or until a wooden chopstick stuck into it boils almost immediately). Carefully place egg rolls into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. When removed from oil, let drain on paper towels.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eff Off About Food Stamps

I read an article yesterday that stated that if Republicans were really interested in stimulating economic activity, they would want to increase programs like food stamps, which generate $1.73 in economic activity per dollar spent, rather than focusing on tax cuts, which generate less than a dollar for every dollar the program costs.  Now, I'm not going to get into the politics of this because that is beyond the scope of this blog (and I really do try to keep it on topic), but some of the comments I've seen in response to this article really got my dander up.

There are a lot of negative stereotypes and misconceptions about people on the food stamp program.  As someone who has received these benefits for a couple years now, I find quite a lot of them offensive and wanted to address some of them.

People who receive food stamps are lazy and don't want to work.
As the article I linked to above mentions, about a third of people who receive food benefits do work, but are still close to the poverty line.  The economy is struggling and a lot of hard working families struggle with it.  Our family is one of these working families that qualify for the program.  My husband works 50-70 hours a week plus goes to college on-line trying to make a better future for our family.  Yes, I stay home, but with three young children, by the time you factor in child care plus everything I do to save us money plus the expenses that would come with working outside of the home such as an additional reliable vehicle and associated costs such as gas and insurance, nicer clothes, etc., I would have to make roughly $60,000 a year to break even with staying home (it might be more now.  I think I originally calculated that number when there were only 2 little ones that we'd have to have child care for), let alone make additional income to be able to spend on silly things like food.  Unless this is your first visit to this blog, you know I'm not just sitting at home watching soaps all day, eating truffles, and collecting my government bennies.  Not hardly!  I'm so busy with the kids, the garden, trying to make money online, helping others learn how to save money, etc, that I almost never sit down!  Anyone who has seen me at any sort of social gathering can attest to the fact that I seem lost when I have to sit, it is just too foreign to me.  At Christmas dinner at my father-in-law's house this past year, my step-mother-in-law grabbed my by the arm and made me sit because my incessant motion was driving her nuts.  Lazy I am not!

I know people who get food stamps but they have way nicer stuff than I do, fancier televisions, a better car, nicer clothes, etc.
And how do you know they bought these things?  Just because the clothes are designer or nice, doesn't mean they didn't buy them second hand.  The nicer television may have been a gift from a relative with money to burn.  The great car could have been one they bought before they lost their job...and now they are stuck with it and the payments that go with it.  Unless you know the intimate details of someone's life, you can't make that call of whether them having that stuff is "justified".   Since you can only have a gross income of 130% of the federal poverty guidelines in order to qualify for food benefits, it is unlikely that people that spend their money on this stuff actually exist.

People on food stamps eat like kings.  I see them buying lobster, steak, expensive this and that at the store.  I can't afford to eat like that, so why should they?
People on food stamps waste their benefits (and my tax dollars) on junk food.  I see them buying pop and candy and chips at the gas station or when I'm behind them at the grocery store.
Even if a person was at the gas station buying chips, pop, etc., how do you know that that is a regular thing? Maybe it is a special treat because they can't afford to take the kids out for a treat or they were out doing errands or something and needed something to snack on right then, before they got home to their regular diet of fresh, homegrown organic food. I know there have been a few times that we've been out and about for much longer than I expected and I've had to make an emergency gas station run to get a snack to hold us over until we get home because my blood sugar is crashing and the kids are melting, but considering we get $171 a month in food stamps to feed a family of 6, just recently increased from $75 a month that I mentioned in the past, obviously, we can't make a habit of that. Most of the time, we eat food from my extensive garden or leftovers from my mom's garden and meat that my husband hunted, supplemented with food from the farmers market (one of the localish markets offers doubling on food stamps up to $20 a visit, so I shop there as much as possible!), bulk foods, and staples such as flour and pasta that I turn into meals that feed the whole family for $2-5. Yet, if someone saw me making that emergency snack stop, they might judge me for "wasting" my food stamps and their tax dollars...but I'd like to see them feed their family for $171 a month like I have to! 

The person you see buying a high priced piece of meat may have saved their meager rations for months to be able to splurge like that or maybe they are making a special dinner for a spouse that was just diagnosed with cancer and given 3 months to live so could use a little cheering up or maybe they are trying to start a business so they can get off food stamps and other benefits and need to make a fancy dinner to impress a prospective investor or client. You just don't know.

Another reason a lot of people on food stamps "waste" their benefits on junk food is sometimes there is nothing else really available.  A lot of poverty stricken areas are what is referred to as a "food desert", where there aren't healthy foods available within a certain distance.  Depending on your definition of distance, I actually live in one myself (I don't know that my area would be considered "poverty stricken", but it doesn't seem unlikely since it is a trailer park), since there are no stores where you can buy healthy food nearby.  When my husband is at work with our one reliable vehicle, if I need to buy food, I'm limited to a party store near the entrance of the trailer park that has very limited selections, including no low-fat milk, whole grain anything, or fresh produce.  Even if I walked the 3 miles into "town", the local village, there still isn't anywhere other than another party store with even more limited selections, basically pure junk food!  If I didn't have access to a vehicle to drive the 7 miles to the nearest full (overpriced; the reasonably priced ones are even further away) grocery store, I'd be completely out of luck.  And sometimes I am completely out of luck, since we don't always have the gas money for me to drive that distance!

And not everyone that receives food stamps gets the same amount, so certainly not everyone can eat like kings.  I've seen "averages" being listed as upwards of $100 a person in an eligible family, but not everyone gets that much.  As I mentioned, my family of 6 gets $171 a month now for the whole family, not the $600+ that some people seem to think we would.  I know people that get quite a bit more, and some of those people, not all, do in fact abuse the system, but my family, and others like us, certainly can't afford to buy pop and dump it out in the parking lot for the 10 cent cash deposit as some people claim "lots" of people on food stamps do.  In fact, the only reason I have pop bottles to return is that my husband works for a manufacturer of a name brand of pop and they sell their nearly expired pop to employees almost for free (just a hair above the deposit).  Most of the people I know that get a lot in food stamps still spend pretty frugally, so that they can save the additional benefits for someday down the road when they pass the income eligibility limit but are still struggling, to give themselves a future safety net, since the amount left on the card stays on the card until spent, rolling over from month to month (unlike WIC, which is a "use it or loose it" thing that expires on a certain day each month).  In our family's case, the $171 we get works out to $6.33 per person per week.  I don't know too many people that can eat like kings on that kind of budget...or eat at all on that kind of budget, for that matter! I'm pretty sure the government is spending far, far more to feed prison inmates than to feed our family that is doing the right things and working hard to get ahead in this world.

The point is you can't judge someone by a two-second snippet of their life. You have no idea what else is going on in their life to take them to the point you see them at. So what if you see someone on food stamps buying something you deem unacceptable? That person you see at the gas station may have a similar situation to the scenario I mentioned above.  Someone might judge me badly for not having any fruits or veggies on the conveyor when I went shopping the other day, since I have a garden starting to teem with veggies, a freezer full of fruits I've already put up for the season I got at the farmers market, as well as a cooler full of blueberries I had just purchased in the car.  You just don't know what is going on so STFU with the judgments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And It Keeps Growing and Growing and Growing--A Trailer Park Homestead update

I don't really have a theme for this week's Wednesday photo roundup, but I think next week's might be about all the space I'm wasting!  I know other people seem to think when they see these photos or the video tour that it is amazing how much I have growing in such a little space, but I tend to notice more about all the wasted potential that I'm just not going to get to this year (and since we haven't decided for sure what our plans are when our lease is up in October, that may mean I never get to it)!

This week has had both high points and low points.  One of the lowest points has been the super high temperatures!  If it wasn't so hot, I might be tempted to see about putting some of that wasted space to use for the fall garden, but with my vampire gardening, I'm limiting myself to the most essential tasks of watering, weeding, and harvesting as needed.
I haven't bothered harvesting things that just need cleaned out for the fall planting, since I'm sure seedlings would cook in these 90+ degree temperatures, so I'll wait until it is closer to when I want to plant to harvest.  I have broccoli, cabbage, and rutabaga started in seedling cups that I'm bringing into the house for the heat of the day so I don't get too far behind though.
No matter how much I water, some of my tomato plants refuse to be happy!  I'm watering pretty much daily, but these poor plants just can't seem to get enough.  Maybe I need to be watering these guys twice a day!
On the plus side, lots of things are getting near being harvested, like the cucumbers we are getting a few of daily (not pictured because my boys gobble them up as fast as we find them so far.  I keep hoping the cukes will outpace the kids though so I can have some for myself and maybe even start thinking about pickling some!).
Fortunately, not all the zucchini are afflicted with the problems I mentioned yesterday.  Right now, there are two out there that I could harvest, but haven't since I would want to bake them into muffins or make some zucchini casserole with them, both of which would require turning on the oven.  So I let them keep growing out there.  Both of those recipes work great with oversized zucchini, so I'm not worried about them getting too big.
I've noticed a few watermelons in a couple different places in the yard.  Here is the biggest so far, right out in the front of the house, but it is still pretty tiny, about the size of a baseball.  Soon...
The watermelon and cucumbers are starting to take over the front yard, which I definitely think give it a unique look.  I recently noticed that I accidentally planted a cucumber plant in with the cucumbers.  Oops.  At least it is on the side of the watermelon area closest to the cucumber area, so if the plants all get big enough, maybe they'd intermix anyway and no one would be able to tell anymore.
The ground cherries are starting to promise a good sized crop as well.  I sure hope I like them!  Even if I don't I'm sure I can get the kids to gobble them up.  And they are always willing to eat unusual fruit (like quince) in jam form, so I should be able to put some up that way too.
I had been all excited about my blue jade corn tassling and ears starting to form, but.....
now the (extremely tall) green dent corn is tassling as well, so I'm not sure that the seed from the blue jade will be good for saving.  I'm still planning on saving seed for my own use and hoping for the best, but maybe I should look more seriously into protecting the seed from cross-pollination and actually do something the right way and not just the way that seems handy and a good idea at the time, like I usually do when bumbling along on my Trailer Park Homestead!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Vampire Gardener Fries a Zucchini

For those that haven't been following me on Facebook or Twitter, I've been referring to myself as a vampire gardener of late.  With this heat wave going on, it is too darn hot to garden during the day, so I've been waiting until after sunset to head out and getting as much done as I can of the watering, weeding, and harvesting before full dark.

During last night's vampire gardening, I harvested my first zucchini.  Yay!  I'd been watching that one for a while, waiting for it to get a bit bigger on one side, the blossom side before harvesting.  However, last night, much to my sorrow, I noticed that end seemed to have turned a bit yellow and started to rot instead of growing!  I picked it anyway, cut off the bad part and made myself fried zucchini.  Yay!  I know, I know.  It is slightly evil to bread and fry a perfectly good veggie, but I know you'll want to too, so the recipe is below.

Back to the sadnesses of the yellow and blossom end rot.  A itsy-bit of research indicated that the rot is probably due to a lack of calcium in the soil.  Fortunately, I've been hoarding egg shells for that specific purpose, so it looks like I'll be grinding them up today to add to the soil during tonight's vampire gardening session.  It could also be because of watering issues, but I'm going to play it safe (not as safe as if I had the soil tested, but I'm goofy like that) and add the egg shells, since I have them laying around anyway.  Some of the same places (random pages on the internet.  I just googled it) said that the yellowing could be caused by a nitrogen deficiency in the soil and that a treatment for that is to add manure.  I happen to have a bag of composted cow manure in my garage, so I think I'll be mixing the egg shells into that and spreading it around the base of my plants with an apology for mistreating them so. 

And now for the fried zucchini recipe.  This goes great with marinara sauce or ranch dressing.  Don't worry, people that aren't fans of fried vegetables--this is only the first of many zucchini recipes to come!

Fried Zucchini

1/2 cup white flour
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1-2 eggs, beaten
1 zucchini, peeled and sliced or cut into sticks
oil for frying

Preheat oil 1/2 inch deep in a large skillet.  Combine flour and bread crumbs.  Dip egg over zucchini pieces, coat with flour mixture and fry until golden brown, turning as needed for even cooking.  Drain zucchini pieces to remove excess oil and serve.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Preserving Blueberries

I picked up 20 pounds of blueberries at the farmers market (with the Double Up Food Bucks tokens I saved from last week plus this week's, they were almost free: $9!) yesterday.  I went easy on myself this time and just bagged them up and stuck them in the freezer.  I'm hoping I'll be able to pick up another 60 pounds or so before the season is over and maybe that will be enough to last us the year, but considering how much I like blueberry muffins and how much the kids like eating them frozen, I wouldn't count on it.  If I can get more while they are in season, I'll definitely go for it.

Last year, I didn't take is so easy on myself with preserving blueberries (of course, last year I had access to a large stock pot I could use for water bath canning, so that made a difference.  Last year, I made a ton of blueberry sauce for pancake/waffle topping, ice cream topping, and yogurt flavoring (okay, I hadn't started making my own yogurt yet when I made it, but we've been using it for that purpose more than any other the past few months!).  I made a couple batches:  the first I screwed up somehow, but it made a thicker sauce, so I thought that was nice.  I didn't actually realize that I'd made a mistake in the recipe until I followed it exactly (well, as exactly as I ever follow a recipe) and it ended up being a lot thinner.  I present here the recipe I used the second time, but I think it is safe to say that the water could be reduced (somehow.  Really, this recipe is so simple, how did I screw it up?!?!) if you want a thicker sauce.  It can be frozen or canned, with no noticeable difference in end result.

Blueberry Sauce

 2 quarts blueberries, rinsed and drained
2 cups water
3 cups white sugar
4 cups water
2 tbsp lemon juice

Mash blueberries in a large pot.  Add 2 cups water and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.  

In a large saucepan, mix sugar and 3 cups water.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until temperature reaches 260 degrees.  Add blueberries; boil for 1 minute.  Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat.  Let cool. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lawns Are the "Emperor's New Clothes"

I got this comment from a brave individual that went by the name "Anonymous" on the piece I wrote a while back about the situation with Julie Bass in Oak Park, MI:
well, at least she can now be famous for going against policies set years ago. The man was doing his job and now may get fired for enforcing policy set by others. I guess we all have forgotten this. Is it worth this , when it could have been planted in the backyard? Animals come and steal food from gardens and can get killed crossing the street. Homeless individuals or hungry children pass by and may want to take the food if it is within view each day. Food spoils and smells from gardens . This is silly, kind of like the Emperors New Clothes. Everyone wants to act as though this is ok, but would you want her next to your home with food almost in your front door? be honest. It is sort of tacky and rebellious to some degree. She has a back yard.
 I responded there, but I am kind of feeling like a slacker tonight (plus I have a bunch of beans that need processing and interesting novels to read...not sure which is going to win out there), so I figured I'd repost here, just for giggles:
Are you serious? First off, it is HER property that she OWNS so who are you to tell her what she can do on her property if it isn't hurting anyone or anything. She has her reasons for not planting it in her backyard and it is not your place to judge those reasons. Animals go for ornamental plants as well, so that argument is out. And, honestly, yes, I would LOVE my neighbors to have a vegetable garden in their front yard rather than a tacky monoculture of boring, useless, resource draining, unsustainable green grass. It IS okay!
 And then, silly me, hit "post", forgetting that I had left out some key rebuttal points (I seriously suck at debates.  This could be part of why.  And I'm entirely non-confrontational and a bit of a wuss in real life, well, unless someone really pisses me off, but that's another story) so I left another comment:
And having done some research on this in covering this story, I should mention too that Rulkowski had a hand in forming this vague ordinance that never would hold up in court should it actually make it there because of the sloppy wording. He can't just pass the buck to someone else when he loses his job, as he should. If they didn't want veggies in the front yard, the ordinance should explicitly say that!
 Obviously, the comment wasn't left by a regular reader, or they would know that I too have a front yard garden (and side yard, and back yard)!  

Just to reiterate, in my book:

Photo courtesy of Julie Bass
Photo courtesy of me.  This is my front yard.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
I thought the comparison to the "Emperor's New Clothes" was especially silly.  After all, which yard is wearing nothing?  Honestly, which would you rather have in your neighbor's yard?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Coping with a Heat Wave--meals and more

We all gotta beat the heat how we can!
Looks like my oven will be going on vacation for a while.  A heat wave is hitting my little part of the world.  With temperatures in the mid-90s or above outside, I don't think I need to add to the problem inside with the oven being on.  It will be difficult enough to keep the house at the mild 81 degrees we keep the air conditioning at in the summer!  I think we might actually up that to 85 for the duration of the heat wave to save some money.  I'm not really looking forward to my vampire gardening sessions for the next couple weeks either, but I don't think I'll be willing to venture out in the daytime much with temps that high!  Laugh it up, Southern folk, but I was reared in Michigan and have lived here pretty much my whole life, so 40 degrees in February is shorts weather (or it would be if I ever wore shorts, but I don't like them so live in jeans year round) but 90 is insufferably hot anytime of the year!

The oven being off won't leave my family without fresh home-prepared meals though.  I still could use the stovetop, slow cooker, grill (actually, that one would have to be my husband, since I'm pretty sure I'd blow something up or at least start a raging wildfire if I tried to use it.  I'm talented that way), deep fryer, and the microwave, although, really, I only use the microwave for thawing things I forgot to get out in a timely fashion and reheating leftovers.  If it wasn't attached to the house, we probably wouldn't have one.  Anyhoo, I figured out a meal plan for the next week based on these restrictions, plus being restricted to food I have on hand, things that will be ready in the garden, things from the farmers market, and things I can get on WIC, since I don't have any more money for grocery store shopping until Friday.  My meal plans basically consist of dinners, since breakfasts are consistently cereal, eggs & toast, or whatever I feel up to putting together that morning, since I'm soooooooo not a morning person (the only reason you get fresh blog posts with breakfast is that Blogger lets me schedule the posting time.  I'm sleeping when they come out!  hahaha) and lunches are typically leftovers from previous dinners, sandwiches, or whatever I feel like putting together at the moment (crackers and peanut butter anyone?) because my brain is already on dinner.  Also, stuff happens in life, so even though this is what I have planned for dinners, I reserve the right to change it at any time for any reason (don't feel like that tonight, oops ran out of a key ingredient, time, found a new recipe I want to try right name a few common reasons I don't follow meal plans).

Recipes that I already have posted on this blog will be linked.  If there is no recipe link, and you want the recipe, please leave a note in the comments and I'll see about getting it up here for you sometime soon!

Day 1: broccoli, cheddar, and potato soup (garden broccoli & onions!  Yay!)
Day 2: black beans and rice with a garden salad (Yay!)
Day 3: chicken egg rolls (using veggies from the garden!  Yay!)
Day 4: pulled chicken sandwiches with homemade french fries and cucumber (from garden?  Yay?) and tomato salad
Day 5: fajitas (using onions from the garden!  Yay!)
Day 6: chicken, mashed potatoes, and sweet carrots (from the garden!  Yay!)
Day 7: chicken pasta salad

Fortunately, this meal plan looks yummy enough that I'm not too sad that it looks like it will be a while longer until I can have one of my summer favorites, zucchini casserole, despite zucchini from my garden almost being ready!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The War on Gardens Continues

When Julie Bass's lawyer went to the courthouse to file a motion regarding the case against her "renegade" front yard gardening activities, he was informed that the charges against her for the garden had been dropped.  Yay!  Right?  Wrong.  Now, they've slapped her with some trumped up charges for dog licenses that she's already paid and she still has a hearing on July 26, but now for the dog license misdemeanor charge (did I mention that there is no unlicensed dog at her house now and the only way that they would even know there ever was unlicensed dogs on her property was if Oak Park a-holes were looking for something to charge her with since her dogs are well taken care of and don't run loose in the neighborhood?).  Not only that, but since Julie never had her day in court or was officially cleared of "wrongdoing" (seriously, is a garden ever "wrongdoing?"), they can bring the charges back up once the media spotlight has cleared back up.  Tricky bastards, aren't they?  Let's not make it that easy on them, shall we?  We've been doing a great job with the calls and emails (not so much with the death threats and such though.  That's too much and I wouldn't be surprised if that's part of why they are being such...looking for a nice word....bureaucrats.  Okay, I couldn't come up with an actual nice word, but that one is at least allowed on television), so let's keep the pressure on until they are leaving the Bass family alone for good!  For your convenience, here is the contact info for key players in this nonsense:

Gerald E. Naftaly 248.691.7410

City Council:  all phone calls go to 248.691.7410
Angela Diggs Jackson
Paul Levine
Emily Duplessis
Oakland County Prosecutor:
Jessica R. Cooper   248-858-0656

Meanwhile, up in Canada, a man is currently facing the prospect of six months in jail for his lovely organic mini-farm on his 2.5 acres!  Dirk Becker of Lantzville, British Columbia has been cited with violating a bylaw against property owners letting their land become "unsightly" and has been ordered to "remove the piles of soil and manure from the property".  Again, the whole thing is rather ridiculous, to put it nicely, and you can click here to see how insane it is, including seeing pictures of before he took ownership of a property that was basically a gravel pit and the gorgeous farm he turned it into that apparently city officials find "unsightly."  Either they have vocabulary issues on par with Kevin Rulkowski's definition of "suitable" or they have something against plant matter!  Now, I'm not too familiar with how the Canadian political system works, but I did find a general office number for the District of Lantzville (250-390-4006) and a general email being listed as, so we might want to give them a heads up that food growing is a good thing and plants are far more beautiful than a barren wasteland, eh?  (I'm from Michigan, so I can do the whole "eh?" thing too.  It isn't a Canada joke, really...although that is kind of funny)

As this insane war on gardens continues, it reiterates the point I made a couple weeks ago that there should be a recognized Right to Garden everywhere.  I listed the contact info, or at least how to find the contact info for US Congress people on my original Right to Garden post, so if you wanted to pursue making this a federal law in the United States, that would be a good place to get started. Canadians, since this seems to be a problem for you too, you might want to get in touch with your government as well!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Natural Weed Killers

I am sore.  It could be from all the hardcore gardening I did yesterday.  I pulled almost all of the broccoli and planted some scallions (I think that's what they actually are.  I always call them clump onions because I forget what they are really called and they grow in clumps and I used them like onions) and carrots, as well as moving some of the basil sprouting up under the lilac tree and rearranging the baby sunflowers under the dryer vent so it doesn't look so much like a two year old planted them (even though one did).

I'm pretty sure that it was the driveway that did me in though.  I really hate spending time, energy, and/or money on things that don't matter, like the appearance of the driveway (it's just a place to set a car when it isn't in use, for goodness sake!), but the latest newsletter from the trailer park indicated that they would like the driveways to be weed free and it did look pretty incredibly crappy in places, so I figured I should probably do something about it before someone complained and management either fined me or came over to "discuss it", in which case I'd be opening myself up for possible issues with the "over the top" garden as well.

I'd been kind of meaning to do something about the weeds in the driveway for a while, but it was one of those things that I wasn't sure what the best way to proceed, so I was procrastinating by waiting until I got a chance to research it.  I knew I didn't want to pour expensive toxic chemicals on it since A) we drink groundwater here so I didn't want to pollute our water, B) the kids play there, C) too expensive, and D) too close to the garden.  The other options I knew about were pulling them out by hand or pouring boiling water on them.  I didn't want to have to boil and haul that much water out, since you can see from the picture that it was getting quite bad in places, so I decided last night to start ripping them out by hand.  It wasn't difficult as far as weeding goes, since most everything had a really shallow root system, so they came out really easily, but all that bending and reaching and repetitive movement with my arms did a number on me! 

And I didn't even get it all done before it got dark (I started around 8:30pm, so I'm not really surprised)!  As sore as I am, I decided maybe I don't want to do the rest of it by hand, and still don't want to boil that much water, so here are some of the other options I'm now considering for the remainder of the driveway and for follow-up maintenance:
  • Vinegar/water solution:  Is there anything vinegar can't do?  From what I've read, a mix of 1 part vinegar to 5 parts water ought to do the trick.  If I can find something laying around the house that would work well to distribute it, this probably will be my preferred method, since it is cheap and easy.  Looks like all you have to do for that one is apply it liberally every few days as needed until they die.
  • Vinegar/soap solution:  I guess the soap helps the vinegar stick to the leaves and helps kill them, so this may be another path to pursue.  This would be a tad more expensive, since there's that soap element (I'd be using Dr. Bronner's of course!).  Looks like both of the vinegar solutions should be applied on sunny days, although I'm not sure why.
  • Salt:  I've seen this listed by itself or in combination with vinegar.  I think I might add some salt to a vinegar and soap solution and see what it does, since the area I'm looking to kill weeds in is one that no one is ever going to want plants growing on.  If it wasn't, I wouldn't want to add salt to the area, since it might interfere with future plant growth as well.  In this case, that's a plus though!
  • Citric acid/vinegar solution:  I have some of this laying around too, but I'm not sure I'd want to add citric acid, since it is the most expensive of the possible herbicides that I've discovered so far.
  • Soap/water solution:  Looks like 5 tbsp liquid soap in a quart of water sprayed liberally on the weeds during the hottest time of the day (which is usually when I seem to want to do yard work anyway, for some reason!) should kill off plants within 24 hours.  If it doesn't, a stronger solution should within the next 24 hours.
So those are the options I'm looking at.  I don't think I have a spray bottle around right now other than the one holding my homemade mosquito spray, so I think I'll finish dealing with what I have in the driveway by hand, maybe pouring boiling water over just the weeds in the cracks in the sidewalk.  After that, I think maybe I'll spring for another spray bottle at the dollar store next time I'm in town so I can try some of these other ideas, probably using a vinegar/soap/water(/salt?) solution.

Have you used natural herbicides before?  If so, what and how did it work out?