Friday, June 29, 2012

Slow Cooker Lasagna

Yesterday, it was too darn hot to cook.  There is no way I was going to spend any time near that hot stove, regardless of whether it was the range or the oven that was heating up the kitchen, it was just.  Too.  Hot.  The kids had been asking for lasagna for dinner for a while now though, so I gave them what they wanted.  Sure, my oldest said his dad's girlfriend's lasagna is better, but, like I told him, this isn't my best lasagna.  This is the recipe for my "it's too darn hot to cook" or "I don't have the time to make a 'proper' lasagna" lasagna.  Like most slow cooker recipes, this is pretty much a toss-it-in-and-let-it-go kind of thing, although still more layered than some dishes would be.

Another nice thing about this lasagna: it can be made cheaply.  In fact, when calculating out how much it cost me to make the lasagna last night, between sales and coupons and making my own tomato sauce last year, it was a $5 lasagna!  Making it like this makes it harder to notice the cottage cheese (which I got on sale, with a coupon, for $1) taking the place of the ricotta, which makes it easier to skimp on costs.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
1/2-1 lb ground meat, browned (optional)
4 cups plain tomato sauce
1 tbsp dried onion
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 lb cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
about 9 uncooked lasagna noodles

Combine browned ground meat (if using), tomato sauce, onion, basil, oregano, and garlic in a medium mixing bowl.  Combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, cottage cheese, and Parmesan cheese in a separate mixing bowl.  Spoon 1/4 of the tomato sauce mixture into the bottom of a slow cooker.  Layer on 3 lasagna noodles, broken to fit.  Spoon on half the cheese mixture, then 1/4 of the tomato sauce mixture, 3 more lasagna noodles; repeat.  Finish with remaining sauce mixture.  Cover and cook on low setting 6 to 8 hours, or until lasagna noodles are tender.  Turn off slow cooker and top lasagna with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.  Cover and let stand 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted, before serving.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Yes, the date on this post is correct.  It is still June and I'm already worried about Christmas.  Okay, maybe not worried, but definitely taking it into account. 

Am I weird for already considering our Christmas feast?  We don't do the Christmas dinner at our house, but we have a huge brunch for just us, usually consisting of cheese omelets, strawberries, and some sort of delicious baked goods (blueberry muffins, coffee cake, or cinnamon rolls), so I'm trying to make sure we get enough strawberries put up to ensure we don't run out of berries before Christmas!  As I type this (actually last night.  I delayed when it would publish until morning, so people would actually see it), my 7 year old son is finishing up processing an entire flat of strawberries for freezing and we'll be picking up more berries from the market today.

Not only do we need berries for our own personal use for Christmas, but homemade jams seem to be much appreciated gifts, whether it be to un-homesteady family, friends, or just people in our lives we want to show our appreciation to, like coaches, dance instructors, or even the mail lady, so I'm trying to get far more made than we need so I have lots to spare.

I know I'm not super weird for having holiday concerns already, or maybe it just runs in my family, since my mom has been touting her Thanksgiving Challenge since January!  Anyone else thinking about the holidays in terms of what they need to do now?  What's on your to-do list for this summer to be ready for this holiday season?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Are You Sure It's Still June?--a Trailer Park Homestead update

So I guess I'm not really a stay-at-home-mom any more.  I posed the question the other day on a forum I participate on of what the definitely of a work-at-home-mom is, and according to everyone that responded, I'm actually one of those people now.  That certainly explains why I'm so busy all the time!  And, of course, even being completely overextended, I added a couple new major projects to my life recently, without taking anything away (I still have pounds to lose, kids to raise and educate, food to grow, money to make, and a house to keep up, after all!), so....yeah.  One of these days I'll go into my new life plan in a blog post, but I've come to the realization that there is no good reason I can't earn a decent income even though I'll never work another job in my life! 

In the meantime, here's what's growing on at the Trailer Park Homestead:
My 7 year old finally noticed the berries on the bushes are starting to ripen, a fact that the little ones and I have known about for several days, but we've been keeping them....harvested.  My little man is getting so big!
Funny how domestic carrot flowers look exactly like wild carrot flowers (aka Queen Anne's Lace).  It makes me wonder if domestic carrot seed would have the same medicinal properties as its wild counterpart.  I'm not going to experiment to find out though!
The back bed is looking pretty bare now that we gave up on the full grown broccoli and the spinach that bolted in this heat.  Once the current heatwave calms back down (95 on Tuesday!), I'll probably plant some carrots and shallots in those spots.
The dill that was sent to me by Kevin's Simpler Times Homestead stands tall and proud next to the mints that keep trying to take over my herb garden (who'da thunk it).
Almost exactly a year ago, a tree was felled from this spot.  I decided to help them out in getting rid of the remaining stump by burying it in compost and planting stuff on top of it.  Now, it is a watermelon mound.  I'll just have to keep the watermelon vines tendrils heading toward my yard, not the neighbors, since this is basically right on the line.  I don't really think they'd mind, but I don't want their ginormous dog-beasts tearing them up or pooping on them.
My tomatoes are getting so close to being yummy, but for now I still have to get my tomatoes from the farmers market. *sad face*
Here I have an alternating pattern of tomato, zucchini, tomato, zucchini, tomato.  For some reason, the plants on the left are doing great and the ones on the right seem to be hanging on to dear life (watering differences maybe?  I guess I'll have to pay more attention when the kids are playing in the sprinkler!).  After last year's nightmare with squash vine borers completely taking out my zucchini, pumpkins, and blue hubbard squash, I decided to try to do something preventative this year.  I've read that foil around the base of vulnerable plants somehow deters the evil moths from laying their eggs on the plants, so I figured that was worth trying out.  The zucchini on the left is already starting to get flower buds, so hopefully I'll get a good zucchini crop this year.  Either that, or I'll have to start parking on random streets around my village and leave the doors unlocked in the hopes that someone will fill my van with zucchini!
The snap peas are not liking this heat.  If we have another freakishly mild winter this year, I might plant my peas as early as mid-February next year so I can get a decent crop before it gets too hot!  As it is, I'm trying to discourage the kids from getting into them at this point, so I can let the remaining peas go to seed so I can try again in the fall.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Seriously Messed Up--a Trailer Park Homestead update

I'm afraid people are going to start seeing the truth about my rumored "green thumb" after this post.  I really don't have one.  My garden isn't looking so good right now.   If it was a chick, I'm pretty sure the correct slang phrase to describe it would actually be "hot mess".  Considering the past couple days have been about 90 degrees, much too hot for this time of year in Michigan, I'd say that would be an appropriate phrase.  Not all the messed up things going on in the garden are heat related though.

My herbs, amongst other things, were looking very wilted before I set the sprinkler out today.
The lettuce is completely beyond saving.  I'll need to pull it out and replant sometime this week, I guess.
My silvery fir Russian tomato plant, the one tomato plant I have with little green tomatoes on it, did this today.  I'm hoping it was just from the weight and that I just need to tie it up, but I'm afraid it was from a lack of water.
Not heat related, but still pretty messed up.  The carrots I planted last August and overwintered as tiny seedlings have decided they are two years old and have decided to flower.  I've decided to permit them to do this in the interest of harvesting the seeds.  I'm pretty sure I planted heirlooms, so it should all work out.
I thought I planted broccoli in here, but now that it's getting big, it looks more like cabbage!  I guess it is okay either way.  I'll just make more egg rolls if that is cabbage!
I noticed a bunch of weeds in this box that is supposed to just house watermelon plants the other day, but when I went to weed it, I discovered what I really had was hundreds of volunteer tomato plants!  I didn't have it in me to kill them all of, so I thinned them out.  Now, this box is officially for watermelon...and tomatoes.  I wonder what kind of tomato plants they are!

My garden is not a complete fail though.  So far this year, I've harvested about half pound each of spinach and snap peas, as well as a head of broccoli and there is plenty more broccoli I need to pick!  Other positives are
the Brandywine tomatoes are beginning to flower and
it looks like I'm going to have a pretty good crop of raspberries, maybe even a whole quart or two!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Summer Celebration GIVEAWAY

On gorgeous days like today, it can be hard to remember it isn't actually summer yet!  It isn't though.  Summer doesn't start for almost two weeks yet.  I think it's arrival is something to celebrate, so to honor the big, bright sparkly in the sky, I'm giving away a sparkly for a lucky winner!   Okay, the owner of Glitter Roots is actually giving it away, but it is through my blog, so I get partial credit, right?

An example of Glitter Roots' merchandise, but you pick what you want
Regardless of who is actually doing the giving, here's how you have a chance of receiving: just leave a comment on this post stating what your favorite thing is about summer.  On June 20, 2012, the day of the summer solstice, I will randomly select a winner from the entries as close to the time of the solstice, 7:08pm my time (11:08pm UTC), as I can manage to be at a computer and will announce the winner via Facebook and Twitter.  The winner has 24 hours to contact me at which time, which I will pass it on to Glitter Roots.  The winner will then get to select which Glitter Roots shiny they would like and it will be shipped to them.  Sorry, but this contest is open to people with US addresses only please.

So what is your favorite thing about summer?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Homeschooling an Older Child for Free

I've made the claim before that homeschooling is in fact cheaper than sending a kid to free public school.  One of the more common responses I've received from that piece is that, sure, they can see that for a younger kid, but once kids get into high school or even middle school, that isn't the case at all.  I disagree.  I firmly believe that it is especially true of older children.  As schools start demanding more expensive supplies and fees, homeschooling can remain as close to free as you'd like it.

And now I have proof.

This month, I've been homeschooling my oldest, a very bright almost 13 year old, who is doing entirely high school or college level work...for free.

How is this possible, you might ask.  Same way as it is for younger children: utilizing the library fully and internet resources.  Right now, he's studying biology using a college textbook, history using a college textbook, Algebra I, computer programming, Japanese, and literature.  The books all come from the library, mostly through interlibrary loans with colleges, and I used the internet to help me put together his actual assignments, which I found to take me about an hour per week.

Yes, eventually there will come a time when I won't be able to educate him for free any more, as things like chemistry require more equipment that maybe I won't be able to find for free, but community colleges do have such equipment and homeschooled high schoolers can enroll at such colleges from a young age (here it is 14 years old, I've heard), at which point they aren't strictly homeschooled kids anymore.  They've begun their college a much lower cost than I did.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Weekend Update--a long overdue Trailer Park Homestead Update

I know I've been slacking lately!  I'm sorry.  Bad, bad, bad blogger.  No cookie for me.  Okay, I haven't exactly been slacking, since I've still been busy as heck with working out, kids' sports and activities, getting my garden in, homeschooling the herd, and who knows what else, but I haven't been blogging nearly enough.  I'm working on improving that, but in the meantime, here is the product of some of my hard work:  my entire garden is IN!  These pictures are actually from a couple days ago, but they are pretty much the same as what's out there now, so the time delay on getting them up is more or less irrelevant. 

This is the front of our house.  The flowers in the front look like they are going to actually do something this year to make my landscaping look a little more "normal".  The middle area has snap peas and cabbage, the barn wood facade (hiding the bright orange buckets the park manager hated so much last year) area has alternating tomato and zucchini plants.  It looks like the berry bushes (left corner) will have an actual crop this year as well!
This picture, taken from the driveway, shows my entire front yard!  In addition to what you could see in the last picture, the "herb garden", which also contains carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, and onions is also visible, as is the front garden box area.
 In the front garden bed, I have onions, cauliflower, carrots (probably ready for harvest, since they overwintered there), beans, tomato, and I planted cantaloupe, but it hasn't come up yet, so I may give up soon and stick something else in that spot.  In the containers surrounding the box, I have spinach, snap peas, lettuce, onions, and another tomato.

In the front stairwell/patio area, I have snap peas and strawberries on the stairs themselves and tomatoes poised to use the stair's rails as supports.  Off to the side, I have ground cherries planted, but they are doing really badly this year, so I may need to replant or move them until they get bigger so the rain coming off the roof doesn't keep killing them.
Okay, this isn't food (although it could be if we were hungry enough, I suppose), but this is a really cool homeschool science experiment going on directly behind the front stairs.  Our sand and water table got a little flooded, so we stuck some tadpoles I got from the Broccoli Lady in there so the kids could watch them develop in something pretty close to a natural habitat.  I probably should replace the sand in there and sanitize the whole things once they've grown up and hopped out though.
If I had a FAQ page, one of the things on there would probably be "if pretty much your whole yard is garden, where do the kids play?"  This would be part of the answer.  Positioned right outside the back door, this play area for the littles is also popular with older kids as well.  It didn't cost a fortune to put together either, since the sandbox and picnic table are both Freecycle finds from a few years ago and the slide/tent thing was an early birthday present for my youngest.
I haven't put much in the driveway, but I figured I could at least stick out this planter I got for the banana tree that I'll eventually (hopefully) be growing.  The seeds haven't even germinated yet (I've mentioned that could take months, right?  I'm still considering contacting the company I got them from for a replacement since it seems like they ought have done something by now!), so, for now, I have a tomato plant and a few cantaloupes in there.  I figure a 30-gallon pot ought to be able to support that much, since each of those plants "only" needs a 5-gallon container.
In what I was calling the "St. Patty's bed" last year (because I planted it on St. Patrick's Day last year), I have winter squash (I need to get a trellis for that to grow up on!), broccoli, onions, and carrots.  I also have a cute little lawn ornament that I was able to get almost for free with coupons.  Woohoo!  A little past here, between the AC unit and the back door, I have a mini bed just of different kinds of peppers (cayenne, bell, and jalapeno), but that is too weedy to show right now.  I also have a small container of beans poised to grow up the back stairs railing.
Finally, in the back of the house, I have my back garden bed, consisting of tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, beets, watermelon, and spinach, and a few new beds (last year's failed potato condo has been reincarnated) containing watermelon and the last of the mini-corn I had left over from last year.