Monday, August 31, 2009

Independence days and a few other tidbits

It occurred to me that I haven't posted many pictures of the house recently. Here it is in all it's overgrown glory.
Looking North
It's been a busy but productive week for the Independence Days Challenge. It's not what I would like, but, considering everything going on in my life: work, house remodel, keeping up with the old house, garden, children, etc, I don't think I've done too bad this summer. The weather hasn't cooperated much either. But that I can't control.
Here goes the update for the week.
1. Plant something- Nope. I'm going to give the fall garden a pass this year and concentrate on getting the weeds under control so that next year won't be as bad- hopefully.
2. Harvest something- Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, a very few beans, sweet corn and tomatillos.
Cayenne anyone?
3. Preserve something- Tomato sauce and salsa canned. Two gallon bags of peppers (anaheim, jalapeno and hot wax) frozen.
4. Waste not (reduce waste)- recycled, composted and used cloth bags at the store. I've been better about remembering to put the bags back in the car- we're starting to get into the swing of things here at the new house. A co-worker brought me a compostable bag made from corn that she got at the State Fair. I'm not really sure what to do with it. I got an email from one of our pastors at church (J15 and I are on the Social Justice Committee) about the annual fall coat give away for our community. This year, they are also accepting good, used clothing of all sizes. We moved several boxes of clothes that the children have outgrown with us and I really need to go through my closet since I have things that I never wear taking up space.
5. Want not (prep and storage)- Stocked up on frozen cheese ravioli and tortellini (local store brand that are really good). I know it's prepackaged stuff, but they are quick meals for busy nights. We also picked up two whole hams that I need to cut into smaller pieces and freeze. Stocked up on rice and Zatarain's jambalaya mix (yeah, it's a box but YUM-O). I made a batch of waffles for the freezer but they're already gone- it's been a while since the children have had chocolate chip waffles.
6. Community Food systems- got local cucumbers again. I still need to sign up for the herbal class. I'm struggling with procrastination again.
7. Eat the food- Let's see- stuffed chili peppers, salsa, grilled eggplant, sweet corn, sliced tomatoes and variations of all the above. Still eating our local beef. This is the easy category this time of year.

And other tidbits. We spent some time outside this evening repairing damage from the recent rains and flooding. We reseated the bridge and tried to anchor it with some concrete. We'll see if it holds the next time.
But we did find a few treasures while we were out and about.
A snake skin. 37 inches long!!
We've spied this garter snake out and about near the shop. Hopefully 37 inches is big enough that it will be eating mice. We like seeing big snakes around here. V also spotted a bull snake that we were thrilled about. Anything that eats mice we are glad to meet.
And finally, while digging around the bridge:
Crawdad etouffee anyone?
We did let it go. But there are some BIG crawdad holes in that wetland.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Beautiful Weekend

It was an absolutely beautiful weekend. Lovely, cool, sunny, dry weather. Hard but fulfilling work. A happy, healthy family.
Now, we're watching Masterpiece Mystery on PBS. Even the children enjoy a good who-done-it.
I think it's time for another glass of wine and some chocolate....

Saturday, August 29, 2009


After the arrival of the last bill for cell phone service, I had a 'chat' with J15 about her texting habits. We do not have unlimited texting on our service plan. Unfortunately, she was using it like we did. To the tune of $46 of overage charges. Yikes! She was quite contrite and, to her credit, did offer to pay me back out of her savings. But we came up with a compromise. I took sweat equity. And today, it was payback time.
The weather was beautiful- sunny and low 70's and after all the rain we had, it was the perfect day for some serious weeding. No pictures here- it was an embarassing amount of weeding! Over the summer, the end of the barnyard where we had planted our small fruits (blueberries, currants and raspberries) had become quite overgrown. Yes, there were lambsquarters plants bigger than I've EVER seen them, with 3 inch trunks near the ground, and lots of smartweed and nightshade. Well, they're there no more. We pulled and weeded and discovered that our plants have fared pretty well, all things considered. We also weeded the asparagus my parents brought for us.
We've now got huge piles of weeds that I'll need to move but it looks so much better. I've got a few more tasks for her to make up for her 'oops' but nothing this bad. Actually, we had a good time doing it. The weeds pulled easily since the ground was so soft and we had a great talk. It was also just nice to be out in the sunshine.
I canned another 10 quarts of tomato sauce last night but I don't know how many we're going to get from here on out. All this rain and cool temps has set mold and mildew rampant in the garden and in the damp, slightly shady corner of the garden all the vines are dying. Not a pretty sight. I'm really hoping that some sunshine and dry weather will save the rest of the garden but I'm not going to hold my breath at this point. With the crazy weather we've been having, anything is possible. We've had the wettest August on record, following the coolest July on record. What a year!

Friday, August 28, 2009

When your spouse works from home

I'm posting today over at Homemakers Who Work about my difficulty adjusting to having my hubby work from home. It's been a challenge for me to not expect him to have everything done when he's home all day.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Oh my. I wish it would stop raining. Yesterday afternoon, I dumped 3 inches of rain from the gauge. This morning, another 1.75 inches when I took the dog out. And it's still raining. They're predicting up to another inch today and yet another overnight. We've got water trickling in the basement again (sigh) and I don't know when I'm going to be able to wade into the garden to pick tomatoes. I ran out last night briefly to get some peppers for a friend and there is standing water in the barnyard not far from the garden. On my way to the bus stop this morning, I spied creeks out of banks, haybales sitting in over a foot of water and fields of soybeans nearly underwater. Eesh, I could definitely stand a bit of sunshine and clear weather.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pick a peck of peppers?

Well, maybe not a whole peck.
But it's still a lot of peppers. My market basket was nearly full and I even left a lot on the plants still. I split them, seeded them and had enough for two 1 gallon freezer bags. Yippee- skippy! We'll have stuffed chilis in the middle of winter. There's nothing better than a taste of spicy, hot summer in January when the snow flies. But boy, oh, boy, then made me start to sweat just working on them. And, yes, I did remember to wear gloves. It only takes once taking our your contact lenses after forgetting to wear gloves when working with peppers to teach a valuable lesson. Trust me on that one.

I got an email from our local food co-op telling me about one of their classes coming up. I told J15 and she is really excited to go as well. They're having a class on "native Iowa healing herbs". Definitely one that interests me. It's on a Thursday night in September. When I went to check out their calendar, I also took a look at other classes and events coming up. A few years ago the co-op and the local food alliance started an event called "Field to Family" in support of local foods. There are lots of free events: tastings and cooking demonstrations at the Farmer's Market, children's activities, culminating with a pot luck at one of the local CSA farms. Last year, J15 and I attended an all day food preservation workshop as part of this event. This year, in addition to the herbal class, they are having a free seed saving workshop at their community garden where the participants will help collect seeds and get to take some home. I'll definitely have to go to that one. A Saturday afternoon and best of all- it's FREE!
I'll keep you posted if I find anything else exciting going on.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Independence days- week 17

I'm tired- and I hate mice! Those have been my mantras this week. I'm in mid canning this evening. I've got another 5 quarts of tomato sauce to can tonight when the current load comes out of the canner. It will be a late evening, but it needs done. It's been a busy week, with school starting, vacation coverage at work, sorting out the new schedules and all. But with all the chaos and disappointments, it has been a productive week- one I can feel good about.
Here's the weekly update- as much for my benefit as just reporting in.
1. Plant something- no. I had really hoped for some fall crops but I think I'm going to let it go this year. There is just too much going on in my life right now.
2. Harvest something- Tomatoes, beans, sweet corn, peppers, potatoes, a few wild plums, still a bit of chard and our first apple off the tree!
3. Preserve something- Tomato sauce (10 quarts, 4 pints) and salsa (4 pints). I hope to pick some peppers to freeze tomorrow night but that will be for next week's list.
4. Reduce waste-The usual, recycled, composted and used cloth bags at the store. With tomato production up, I've been adding lots to the compost pile lately.
5. Prep and storage- 10 pounds of rice for storage, 5 extra pounds of flour and found a case of pint jars- not as cheaply as I would have liked but not too bad.
6. Community food systems- Stopped at a farm stand for cucumbers again. Also, with pork prices falling, V and I have been discussing trying to purchase some pork from the farmer we purchased our beef from in January. We currently have room in the freezer- or we have talked about getting a second, smaller freezer for meat. We'll have to see.
Also, loosely related to this category- J15 and her English 10 honors class got into a discussion of sustainable agriculture this afternoon. It seems that the first book they are reading is "Of Mice and Men" and her teacher is evidently quite interested in sustainable agriculture and the 'green' way of life. Her teacher was excited to learn that J15 is learning food preservation/preparation skills. I'm excited because it got J all fired up and she was helping me can sauce this evening- absorbing everything she saw and asking lots of questions. She got to load her first jar into the canner and was then doing this cute little dance, jumping up and down talking about feeling empowered. Wow!
7. Eat the food- This is the easy part this time of year. There are lots of yummy things to be had: corn on the cob, boiled new potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, stuffed chilis... the list goes on.

Ok, I'm back- did you miss me? The last jars are in the canner for the evening. I've still got about 2 quarts of sauce left but I'm not going to heat up enough water to cover just 2 jars. So, it will go into the fridge. I'll reheat it next time- the way things are going, probably Wednesday or Thursday night. Hurrah! We're getting tomatoes this year. Last year we had a disastrous year and I hardly got any tomatoes canned at all. We barely had enough to eat. So I'm hoping to make up for the deficit. We're fortunate that the year before I had canned over 40 quarts of sauce and it lasted for part of this year as well, and my Mom gave me 24 quarts of whole tomatoes last fall. I'm at 15 quarts with the batch that's in the canner now. I'd like to get at least 30 quarts this year, if not more. We'll see how it goes from here out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

From my market basket

A few years ago I went to a couple of classes on basket weaving taught by a friend where I made several baskets. I've got a 'briefcase' bag that I made and a large and small market basket. My large basket is holding various craft supplies, mainly counted cross stitch stuff- but I use my smaller market basket for harvesting from the garden. I have several other baskets that I use but that one is my favorite.
That's a pretty sight!
Ok, I may complain about having tomatoes and peppers sitting all over my house but who can't say they're gorgeous? I guess this is one reason I do what I do. V told me that it's probably a good idea that the mice are reducing our harvest- he said I'd probably be crazy by now if I was getting 100% of the tomatoes that are out there.
I picked some more sweet corn this afternoon that we will have for dinner tonight and dug a few new potatoes.
Fingerlings in my favorite old colander.
But what's this in my market basket!?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tomatoes everywhere!

I picked tomatoes again this morning. Between the mice, the fly larvae and the rain making everything start to rot I'm having a tough time finding ripe tomatoes that are still edible. So, I have been picking them just as they start to turn and have been letting them ripen in the house. Of course, that means that currently almost every flat surface in my house is covered with tomatoes of varying ripeness!
The top of a stereo speaker in the living room.

The kitchen table -yes, still with unpacked boxes :(
I've got lots of my heirloom varieties ripening now: Mortgage Lifter, Amana Orange, Amish Paste, Polish Linguisa and Bloody Butcher. The mice seem quite partial to the Amana Orange and my Polish Linguisa paste tomatoes. I have yet to get any ripe tomatoes off my 'super secret tomatoes' but they have lots on them.
I think that in order to control mouse, slug and larvae damage next year I'm going to have to keep a scrupulously clean garden. I have realized that I went waaaaay overboard this year with the garden, considering everything else I had going on. I wasn't able to keep up with the weeds and everything is overgrown. Then I didn't have time to adequately support my tomatoes and with the incredible fertility of the soil (lots and lots of horse manure!) the vines have run rampant. All this, combined with the cool, wet summer we have had has really wreaked havoc on the tomatoes (and everything else!). I've got lots of problems with the tomatoes sitting on the ground and just starting to rot at this point. Of course, we've had 3.75 inches of rain in the past week and we haven't had a week all summer when it hasn't rained at least an inch. It has definitely saved on the need to water but I'm paying the price.
But next year.....
Isn't that every gardener's mantra?
This is a learning year. I definitely bit off more than I could chew. I planted way too much garden for the time I had to devote to it. I had such grand plans and life got in the way. Oh well, it's still been fun...and we've gotten some fabulous food from it. I'm still getting peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn, beans and eggplant, and I have potatoes to dig soon- what more could I want, right?
Well, I see more tomato sauce making in my future. At least we will have something to show for all of this mess!
Sorry it I'm a bit melancholy this evening. It's been a long few days and I need to take I12 shopping for pants tomorrow. We discovered that all of his pants are about 2 inches too short. That boy had the audacity to grow over the summer! Oh, and I need to find some more pint jars. I don't know how it happened but I've only got a dozen left (I think there is too much jam and such) I always try to can some tomatoes in pints since I have recipes that use only that much. We'll see who has the best price tomorrow.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A day off???

I had a day off today since I worked last weekend at my day job. What is it about days off that I seem to work harder than I do at work? But I guess that's typical of those who choose the lifestyle we do. There is always so much to do, especially this time of year that there aren't enough hours in the day.
But before I regale you with the day's adventures, a few pics of from Wednesday evening. We had a HUGE storm come through. Well, it wasn't that big of a storm in terms of length but it RAINED!!!! The creek flooded and washed our new bridge off it's footings and caused lots of erosion. The sun came out shortly after the downpour. Here is our little creek:
Our placid little creek bed is probably 2-3 feet deep and a foot wide.
It was well out of banks.
We went out in the downpour for a while to look at the run off. It was quite impressive, and of course, we all got soaked!
Wet boys after the storm- in dry clothes.
We had 1.75 inches in about 15 minutes. On top of the several inches we have had in the past few days and more rain today. It has been WET!!!
But on to the adventures of the day. First, I slept in until 6:20!!!! Wow!!! The kids caught their buses for the second day of school. K has said he has made a few friends. And I12 said that Jr High isn't as bad as his sister made it out to be.
V and I had a lovely day to ourselves in the house. We had a lovely breakfast for two, I made a quick foray into the garden before today's rain arrived, then we ran errands in town (home improvement store, tracking down a few more school supplies and grocery store run) and had lunch. After lunch, I got busy in the kitchen.

Hmmm, what am I making with my morning harvest???

It doesn't seem like much for that much work!!!
I ended up with tomato sauce (5 quarts and 4 pints) and 4 pints of tomatillo/tomato salsa. I have some more tomatoes that I'll have to deal with tomorrow and lots more ripening on the kitchen table. I'm really glad that we kept my old table in the kitchen even after we moved the dining room table into the house. It is nearly covered with ripening tomatoes. I've discovered that we are having trouble, not only with mice but with opportunist Black Soldier Fly larvae that are getting into some of the tomatoes that have been gnawed. If I don't catch them early enough or if the tomato is too green, the tomato will rot from the inside out from the larvae burrowing into it. I think we're having this trouble because there was so much horse manure lying around and supposedly these fly larvae live in poorly decomposed manure or in decaying plant materials. Grrr. Just what I needed, more competition for my tomatoes.
Then, there is the even more exciting news!!! We had a new harvest this evening.
Our first sweet corn!!!
Yeah, I know, I could have let it grow for a few more days to develop a bit more but it was so tasty and we've been waiting so long. There is more out in the garden and we've still got my heirloom variety that is just tasseling now. Since I got it into the ground so late this year we're getting ours much later than most people around here. I'm still excited, this is the first corn I've ever grown in my own garden. Oh, I grew up with sweet corn by the bucket full and Roger and I occasionally planted a bit of ornamental corn, but this is my first real harvest of corn on my own- ever!!! We've never before had enough room for corn as well as everything else we wanted to grow so I'm quite pleased with myself. I think some of my impatience in harvesting it is that I'm so worried that the raccoons will find it and destroy it before we get much. But we've never seen much evidence of raccoons here. Rabbits, mice and deer but not raccoons. Hmmm, I'm sure they're out there and they worry me.
Now, I've still got a full weekend of work ahead of me. I've got laundry, gardening, cleaning, canning, and the continued work on the house and unpacking. Sheesh! It will be a relief to go back to work on Monday.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Random pics of the day

The ugly tomato?
Gotta love those random tomatoes you get sometimes. This one looks for all the world like a rubber duck. I'm going to have a hard time eating it. Well, maybe not.
Boys playing on the playground at K's new school.

It is a totally awesome play structure!!!
K got a chance to meet his new teacher and check out the school grounds. I got to stand in lines to pick up information packets, pay the textbook fee and put lunch money in K's account. Oh, and we got to eat ice cream. We reconnected with I12's old preschool friend and his parents. That's a relationship that we may need to cultivate. We really don't have many 'couple' friends and we have always gotten along with this couple. We have seen them off and on since the boys were in preschool but have drifted apart over the years. Now living closer and having kids in the same school maybe we can build on it again.
A coneflower on the school grounds.
School here starts on Thursday. The children will all ride the bus this year. Three different buses, three pick up times, three different schools. Only K9 had to change schools after the move. I12 will be at a different school but that's because he was going to move up to junior high anyway. I'm not sure I'm prepared for three kids in three schools. I foresee scheduling nightmares in the future.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Independence days- week 16

What a week. Work has been crazy busy and we've had people on vacation so it means lots of covering for others. I worked on Saturday so that means I had a 6 day stretch of work with only one day off before Monday. But, that means that I have Friday off so I'll have a 3 day weekend. I'll most likely be canning tomatoes, if I've got them.
It's Monday again. That means the Independence Days Challenge update.
1. Plant something- Nope
2. Harvest something:
Wild plums
Lets see, I'm finally starting to get tomatoes. I also have harvested wild plums, peppers (both hot and bell), eggplant, chard, beans and tomatillos. With the peppers. I've got an overload of hot wax peppers and lots of anaheim chilis and jalapenos. I've had a few bell peppers finally and we tried our first paprika pepper (Alma Paprika- an heirloom variety) Man, it was HOT!! I guess I thought that paprika would be milder. I've got a few that are starting to turn red so I'm hoping to be able to dry some. It should be fun. I'm thinking homemade chicken paprika...
Oh, and have I mentioned that I HATE MICE? That has become my mantra while picking tomatoes. It seems that about every other tomato I pick has been nibbled upon. See?
Have I mentioned that I hate mice?
I've found that as soon as the tomatoes even barely begin to ripen they get snacked upon. I've noticed fewer nibbles in recent days though, I'm not sure if it is due to our feral momma cat hanging out in the garden or the tomatoes ripening faster than the mice can keep up with. And of course, they can't just eat an entire tomato- no, they have to nibble on lots of them. And also, they can't seem to eat the cherry tomatoes, of which I have about fifteen thousand- no, they have to nibble on the really big, nice ones. They seem to like my paste tomatoes and the Mortgage lifters best. GRRR. So, I've started picking the tomatoes when they just start to turn and have been letting them ripen in the house. Definitely not ideal, but at least I was able to get 5 quarts of sauce cooked up yesterday.
3. Preserve something- tomato sauce, that's about it. I need to do something with my plums but I don't have enough to really make jam. Either that or I need to climb the fence and get further into the thicket.
4. Reduce waste- Hmm, just the usual. We need to make a run to the recyclers again but J15 helped clear off my old table in the kitchen that had been stacked with plastic recyclables and returnable bottles. I can't say that I reduced waste on back to school shopping, although we did try to go through the stuff the kids had left over from last year. But it still seems that we spent a fortune. Of course, we had to get J15 a graphing calculator and that definitely wasn't cheap. The one she used last year was one that V had pulled out of a dumpster a few years ago and was so old that the design was different than her teacher had so she had lots of trouble following along in class. (sigh)
5. Prep and storage- picked up some flour that was on sale. Also got extra spiral notebooks for the kids- they had a really good deal and I know they'll need them next year as well.
We really, really need to get the framing done in the basement, we've discovered that mice have been getting into a few boxes in the shop (pole barn). Of course, the mice have been everywhere. I even discovered a mouse nest in the garden- a nest of dead weeds and mulch, perched in a tomato plant (GRRR!). I saw momma mouse dart out of it. V disposed of the nest for me- he said I just didn't want to know about the contents.... He's dispatched at least 3 other nests of baby mice that he has found in the shop and barn. I'm counting this in the prep/storage category because it definitely impacts my ability to safely store anything. V is finishing the framing on my canning/food storage room this evening- YEAH!!! We had to move the freezer (still loaded!) so he could frame the wall behind it. But at least it now has an outlet that is set in a wall, not just a temporary one.
6. Community food systems- We've been eating quite local lately- well, except for the shrimp the other night. J15 and I stopped at a roadside stand and purchased a few cucumbers and a cantaloupe. We didn't really need the melon but it smelled SO good!
7. Eat the food- Oh, yeah! This has been the easiest category. We've had several almost all home produced meals this week. This evening we had pasta with a sauce made of sauteed onions, peppers, polish sausage and very lightly cooked, roughly chopped tomatoes with some fresh basil tossed in. A bit of shredded parmesan on top = YUM!
I12 has been cooking again. Last night he made a quiche- ham and cheese- and we had salads entirely from our garden (well, except for the farmer's stand cucumbers). A few bread sticks, a bottle of wine and it felt like we were in southern France.
Tomorrow night is the before school ice cream social. It's a community tradition. A few days before the start of school, every elementary school has an ice cream social on the school lawn where the class lists are posted, the children can meet their teachers and the parents can turn in forms, sign up for things and put money in the lunch accounts. I think K9 is excited about a new school, as well as a little worried. But we think that the younger brother of one of I11's friends from preschool may be in K9's class since he would be about that age and they go to that elementary school. We'll find out tomorrow.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kids in the kitchen

I'm posting today over at Homemakers Who Work about the importance of teaching our children to cook.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Getting from here to there

I had a rough day at work today. It has been busy for a few weeks but today I was swamped! Fortunately, my co-workers came to my rescue and helped me out.
V and the children were 'swamped' in a different way. They were doing waterway management today. Well, actually, landscape management.
The lowlands of our property are quite marshy, in fact, we have lots of wetlands species growing there and with all the rain we've had this year, it is pretty squishy down there in the bottomlands. But this afternoon, they built a bridge over the main stream!
Twaddle-Bottom Bridge!
They even named it. I'm not sure why.... But V is excited that he can now drive the garden tractor across the stream to mow some of the areas that we haven't been able to get to before now.
Running water under the bridge.
V, victorious mowing at the property line between the hills!
At least he didn't mow down all the wildflowers. He has more mowed paths for ease of walking. He even managed to get up to the top of the big hill, that we have dubbed 'gazebo hill' since we have a long term plan to build a large gazebo up there (maybe even consider renting it out for small weddings since the setting is lovely). It is our largest hill, except for the one the house is on, and it has a wonderful flat top that just cries out for something on it. I briefly considered putting my garden up there but it's too far away from the house and there is no water supply if it were to get dry.

I12 discovered a hornet's nest the hard way this afternoon when V had him pulling weeds (as a punishment for getting caught in a lie!) Fortunately he was only stung once and now we know where the nest is and can take care of it. It's quite near the house in the iris bed by the south porch. Definitely too close to leave it alone. I12 has recovered well but is now worried about going out on the south deck for fear he will be stung again. He doesn't really believe us when we tell him that if he doesn't bother them, they won't bother him. Of course, I've found that the ones that nest in the ground tend to be a more aggressive species than those that build nests above ground. But they haven't bothered us before now.

Work on the house is progressing slowly, we have a fully functional bathroom upstairs although we still aren't using the shower as we haven't painted yet. J15 has a room- with a door even! We've been taking a bit more time cleaning up things outside. V made his first real trip to the garden with me this afternoon. Oh, he's seen it and mowed around it but really hasn't taken time to explore it. He helped me search for tomatoes, picked a few peppers and even did a little weeding around the peppers. He was amazed by how many tomatoes there were- even though I've been telling him that the vines are loaded with green tomatoes.
My friend Jim brought me a treat this afternoon. He made a ginger/chile/lime relish that really packs a punch. I'm thinking about marinading some (definitely not local) shrimp in it and serving it over rice for dinner tomorrow night. I12 is planning another meal that he wants to make this weekend. I've got to work on Saturday and we still need to get school supplies for the children. So much to do, so little time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Independence days- week 15- a few days late.

I'm behind on the times. It's been a busy week and I was so excited about finding plums on Monday that I 'plum forgot' my Independence Days post! Ha!Ha!
J15 and I12 both had school registration today. They're both happy with their schedules and had their pictures taken already so they can get their school IDs. We got the bus schedules for them, finally. 3 busses, three different pick up and drop off times. School starts next Thursday. EEK, where did the summer go! Oh yeah, we moved....
But on to the business at hand, my weekly check in.
1. Plant something- Nope. I know I should be thinking about fall crops but, honestly, I don't know if I can do it this year. I've about reached my limit of what I'm capable of right now, this whole move, renovations, garden, getting the kids set for school, working mess has about done me in. I'm so tired most of the time I can barely function. I just about fell asleep at my computer at work this afternoon. So, I'm thinking about letting the fall garden go this year.
2. Harvest something- Peppers, onions, tomatoes, beets, green beans, eggplant. I still don't have enough tomatoes to can which is quite vexing. Since I have to work this Saturday, they will all probably decide to ripen and need canned this weekend.
3. Preserve something- Pickled beets. Frozen beans (I decided against canning since freezing was a bit quicker and time has been short this week.
4. Reduce waste- Have tried to get back in the habit of putting the cloth bags back into the car. Made the recycling run to clear out the stacks that had accumulated around the house.
5. Prep and storage- Stocked up on flour. Also took advantage of a sale at the local store where they had ground turkey for $1/lb. We stocked up with 10 1 lb packages. I know it's factory farmed, but we like turkey and it was a great deal. I haven't found a good local source of turkey. Beef, chicken and pork yes but no turkey.
6. Community food systems- While not really community food system, I did make beignets for the 'presentation' on Sunday by the kids who went to New Orleans. They did the entire church service and met with congregation members between services to talk about their experiences. So I fried up about 10 dozen beignets to go with the chickory coffee they brought back.
7. Eat the food- No problem here. This category is easy this time of year. We've been getting enough tomatoes to satisfy my cravings. Yesterday was V's birthday. The kids and I baked and decorated a cake and for dinner we thawed some of our grass fed Tbone steaks for the grill and had fresh garden veggies. Then there was I12's meal and J15 has mastered making stuffed chilis.
I do need to get some more sleep than I have been. Of course, we were up late last night. We took the children down to the riding arena and lay on blankets late last night to watch the meteor shower. We were a bit early to see very many but the ones we saw were spectacular and it was a beautiful clear night. I'd really love to be able to go out again since the peak is tonight, but I know I need the sleep. There are times I really resent having to go to work, it interferes with my life, but the bills need paid....

Monday, August 10, 2009

Finding food

Wow! Two posts in one day. What is the world coming to! V called me outside to look at the clouds (tonight's storm approaching- sigh) and had me bring my camera. While outside I discovered several other things.
Our tree has apples!
They're rather the worse for wear but they're there, not a lot but I'm hoping that if I can plant another tree for pollination that it may produce better in the future. I've got no idea what kind of tree it is. It looks like someone, at some point, cut it down the the ground and it came up from the roots. So, if it was ever grafted- it isn't at this point. It looks for all the world like a huge shrub. Maybe I'll try to clean it up some year... if the apples are at all good.
The other find, I knew would be there since I saw them blooming this spring but I had kind of forgotten about them:
Wild plums!
They're only about an inch across each but the trees are loaded. We found one that was nearly ripe and sampled it- WOW! It was fantastic. I'm thinking maybe some wild plum jam is in my future when more of them ripen. Now if I can only keep the wildlife out of them....


and other wild life.
We've got a wild cat roaming around. We've seen her off and on for the past few weeks. She is a white/calico cat with at least one kitten (black and white). But they are WILD! This evening she was sitting in the barnyard by the garden, staring at the house but as soon as I opened the door she bolted into the weeds. We're going to try to encourage her to stick around, having a barn cat isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Last night after the storm we found two tiny tree frogs clinging to the outside of the back door.
Tiny tree frog
The beetle for comparison, the frog is only about an inch from tip to tail. I would have loved to get a closer shot but I had my little camera which doesn't to close ups very well.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Tomatoes and a storm

We have been getting a few tomatoes. I've had lots of cherry romas, a few bloody butchers and the Jetsonic and Morgtage Lifters are just starting. I'm having issues with critters gnawing on them as soon as they begin to ripen, though. I'm not sure if it's mice or bunnies or snails. I seem to have an inordinate amount of snails in the garden but I think they're more opportunists when something else starts nibbling. I haven't had enough to can yet but I made some salsa with the tomatillos that are also starting. But for dinner tonight:
Fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil vinagrette. YUM!
We also had a huge storm move through about sunset. There were the weirdest cloud formations moving through. It was eerily beautiful.
Storm front moving through.
I"m probably going to can beans tomorrow after work, we'll see how many I have. I'm worried that the tomatoes will all ripen at the same time- they've been green for so long. Although I'm hoping that they start ripening fast enough that they can outpace the critters that have been dining on them.
This is the start of 'eat local' week and I believe national Farmer's week, or something like that. I'l have to check. We're going to continue to eat as we have been recently, mostly local, and hopefully home grown.

And as a side note- there was NO water in the basement apart from that that leaked under the back door since the sill needs replaced. HURRAY!!!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Our very own beach!

V and I were at one of the local home centers late in the week and we stumbled across the end of summer clearance pile. We've finally got a use for our sand covered riding arena. OUR VERY OWN BEACH! For half price we got a 15' diameter above ground pool. Yeah, I know, it's late in the season to be filling a pool with 3000 gallons of water. But we haven't had much of a summer. And it was in the low 90s today. Perfect weather for a trip to the beach and we decided we deserved an afternoon off.

Filling the top ring with air.
A view of the beach.
V and I under the umbrella
Frolicking children.
The pool will eventually be about 4 feet deep but we were in it as it filled. I also took time to take a walk over the hills to look for wildflowers.
Great Lobelia (I think)
Thistles- even though they're prickly, they're still beautiful.
Swamp milkweed
The Spotted Touch-me-Not (jewelweed) is also blooming but the flowers are so delicate it was too windy to get a good shot. We've also got wild bergamot (bee balm), white shakeroot and LOTS of others. It's going to be fun to figure them all out.

A dismal harvest

I went out and pulled onions this morning. I planted 100 each of white, yellow and red varieties. This is what I ended up with:
A pathetic showing.
Most of the red ones rotted in the ground- I'm thinking a combination of the weeds, the amount of rain and the fact that I probably didn't get to them soon enough. I only have about 20 to show of the 100 I planted. Of course, we have eaten a few along the way but still....
The yellow ones did a bit better and the white ones even better still. But there are very few that are of a decent size.
But here are a few other photos of the day.
Blue Vervain
I've heard these variously called surprise lilies or naked ladies. But by any name they're beautiful. There are several clumps by the North fence by the driveway. Quite lovely.

And now- I've got to go work on our end of the year surprise for the kids. More pics to follow.

Friday, August 7, 2009

She has a room...

Well, almost....
V peeks at J15 through a gap in the wall.

It's not much but it's a place for a bed.
And it has a door of a sort.
J15 has walls! With drywall on at least part of them. It is enough for her at the moment. She set up her bed and is excited to sleep in her own bed in her new room, even with incomplete walls.
And with her room completed, my canning/food storage room has also taken shape as has most of what will be the spare bedroom/sewing room. Things are moving along.
I'm hoping to spend some time in the garden tomorrow morning before it gets too hot and then J15 wants to go back to school shopping. I'm a bit torn. This is our 'tax holiday' weekend. There is no sales tax on clothing or shoes either today or tomorrow. And while that means a savings, I'm not so sure I want to brave the crowds. But I desperately need new sandals (mine have lasted several years and are now on their way OUT- and my favorite flip flops broke last night!!!) and J15 needs new jeans and shoes for school. Her supply of hand-me-downs has dwindles or fallen apart and she only has 2 decent pair of jeans to start the year. I really should take time to check out how many pants the boys have that still fit (they had the audacity to GROW over the summer!) but maybe they can wait.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My new range rocks!

I did my first canning on my new range tonight. The 'power burner' rocks. 15,000 BTU of heat in one burner is fabulous! And having 6 burners was also great, the big one for the canner, one for the product, one for lids, one for extra water, and still room to spare. YES!
Pickled beets.
I have one jar where I separated out the pale beets, the ones that are almost yellow with pink rings. I forget the exact name but they're beautiful. This was the last of my beets and now I wish I had canned some more while we had them. Oh well, I've got 4 pints ready to go.
In other news, we had 22 realtors walk through our old house yesterday. And of all that, only 3 negative comments. One person evidently thought we need to trim our shrubs some more and two complained that the CFL lights in the kitchen and basement take too long to warm up. I guess that's true, but it's something that we had gotten used to- that the kitchen was dim for about 90 seconds after you turn on the lights. Oh well, we're NOT going to trim the shrubs but the lightbulbs were a quick fix that V took care of this morning. Evidently all the other realtors thought that the house was great and that we're asking a fair price for it. What a relief. There was another showing yesterday and another is scheduled for Friday that we know of. But, no offers yet, But then, it's early days yet. The house has only been on the market for a week and having 5 showings in that short a time is pretty good in today's economy. And those are only the ones we know of. With the lock box on the house, any area realtor can stop in and show it at a moment's notice since we're not living there.
It ends up that I don't have to work this weekend, but next. My co-worker who was scheduled to work next weekend had child care issues and asked to swap. Since I don't have anything pressing going on it didn't bother me. Maybe now I can sleep in a little on Saturday to try to recover from last weekend.
It's supposed to be hot this weekend- finally into the 90's for the year- but I really want to spend some quality time in the garden. I noticed this evening that I will have green beans to pick tomorrow night and hopefully I'll have a few more tomatoes. I also really need to pull my onions since they've all fallen over. They really didn't get very big this year- who knows, it definitely wasn't due to lack of rain.
Ah, the thwack of another jar to my ears.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My budding chef

I was unpacking some of my cookbooks last night and I12 was excited to once again have his cookbooks. He has said for several years that he wants to be a chef when he grows up, and he is getting to be good enough at cooking- even at 12- that it could be a possibility.
What did he make? Here's some photos. (Please excuse the disastrous mess you can see in the background. We haven't figured out the recycling system here yet and things are stacked everywhere.)
A trip to the garden for supplies.
He (with help) harvested eggplant, tomatoes, onions, a pepper and some basil. Any ideas yet?
Chopping tomatoes
Stirring a chunky tomato sauce with onions, garlic, green pepper and basil.
Ok, I'll admit, I supervised and used the mandoline slicer for the rest of the veggies (to save his fingers but more my sanity!)
And now the finished product:
Ratatouille ala Ian
Most ratatouille is more chunky like a stew but he wanted to make it like they made in the movie of the same name (which is a great movie, by the way). It was fabulous!!! We melted a little cheese on the top at the last minute and served it over pasta! What a great vegetarian meal for the week and except for the yellow squash from my Mom, the cheese and the pasta, it was all grown in our garden.
Here's what he did.
Coarsely chop 2-3 cups tomatoes (we had about 2- all we had ripe but would have liked a few more).
Put tomatoes in a sauce pan with one chopped small onion, half a green bell pepper, also chopped, salt, pepper and about 1 tablespoon shredded fresh basil. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes soften.
Spoon half of tomato sauce into bottom of pan. Place alternating layers of veggies in a circular pattern around the edge and in the middle of the pan. We used 2 small eggplant, 2 small yellow squash, one medium red onion and a few more whole leaves of basil. Make it pretty.
Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the top, cover with foil and bake at 375* for about 35 minutes, remove the foil, sprinkle with finely shredded cheese (we used a blend of mozarella, parmesan and asiago). Turn off the oven and put the dish back into the oven for just long enough for the cheese to melt.
Serve over pasta (we used penne) with extra shredded cheese if desired.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Independence Days- week 14

My how time flies!!! It can't be Monday already, can it. Oh yeah, it is. I went to work today- the first of a 6 day stretch since I work on Saturday. We worked so hard this weekend, it was difficult to get up out of bed this morning and I actually overslept. I turned off the alarm with every intention of getting up (it was 5:20 am) but when I woke up next it was 6:52!!! I normally catch the 6:40 bus- so I was LATE!!!! I quick threw on some clothes, gulped some coffee and had V drive me all the way into work.
But, the house in town is essentially done. V has gone down this evening to brush on a thin coat of varnish over the dining room floor. He tried to spot finish the places where it had worn thin due to traffic and chairs moving in and out but then it obviously looked spot finished. So he will dry brush a very thin coat over the entire floor to make it all shiny. The realtors will be doing their walk through tomorrow morning at 9 and there is another showing later in the morning. That will be, as far as we know, the third showing of the house since it went on the market on Wednesday of last week. Not too bad. We haven't heard any comments from the first two walk throughs so I'm curious what people have thought. I'm a bit nervous about the realtor comment session tomorrow although I know they're doing it to be helpful.
But on to my usual Monday business: The Independence Days challenge. So, here goes:
1. Plant something- transplanted a few of my flowers from the old house to the new but that's about it.
2. Harvest something- Yup! Behold:
Peppers and the first of the tomatoes.
So far we've got tomatoes ripening on two of the heirloom varieties, Cherry Roma and Bloody Butcher. The Bloody Butchers aren't very big but they are quite tasty and very juicy. The cherry romas are just plain tasty and are a tiny grape tomato.
The last harvest of broccoli.
Who would ever have thought that I would be harvesting the last of the broccoli in August! It's official, we have had the coolest July on record. I harvested one HUGE head, two normal sized heads and one small one. And most impressive- on all of that I found only 4 worms when I soaked it in brine (and I did look carefully).
I also have harvested some more peppers, beets, some onions and a few new potatoes.
3. Preserve something- Froze 4 quart bags of broccoli and I have some beets cooling that I need to do something with this evening.
4. Reduce waste- The usual, composted LOTS of weeds from the old house. We also hauled out the brush that we trimmed from the bushes. We've got space here and it will probably go for kindling for fires later this fall. Things have been kind of crazy lately and I haven't always remembered to put my cloth bags back into the car. At the old house we would put the bags by the back door but we haven't figured out a good system yet.
5. Prep and storage- Construction continues on J15's room, V plans to start drywalling on Wednesday. Woo Hoo! For storage- I have the 4 bags of broccoli and my Mom brought us 10 packages of frozen sweet corn.
6. Build community food systems- Stopped at the farmer's market again last Wednesday. Otherwise, we've been eating from our garden or from what my Mom brought us.
7. Eat the food- no problem here. We've had sweet corn, broccoli, stuffed peppers, boiled new potatoes, green beans, beets. We also have been eating most of our meat products from the freezer. I used my new griddle that came with my stove to make whole wheat pancakes (with fresh strawberries and blueberries) on Sunday morning. Unfortunately on both Saturday and Sunday we ate out since we were in town with no food or means to cook and I wasn't organized enough to pack lunches. We ate KFC on Saturday and Subway on Sunday. Well, I guess that counts as our annual fast food stint that is usually while we're on vacation.
I'm really hoping that, now that work on our old house is done, that I can start settling into some sort of routine here. I've been feeling so disjointed lately, I don't know whether I'm coming or going. Even though I take exception to the word "normal" I would like to regain some normalcy in my life.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Yard work

We spent the day at our old house, working on the 'curb appeal'. I was right, weeding and a bit of mulch worked wonders. We mowed and weeded. Tomorrow we will haul away the piles of brush and weeds. Normally we would have composted the weeds but I'm not adding anything new to the compost pile there.
My parents stopped by this morning on the way to a family reunion. We had hoped to go but with the need to get the yard work done we begged off. Even my Mom was understanding about our need to get things done. They brought us green beans, cucumbers, sweet corn and summer squash. My sweet corn isn't tasseling yet and I picked a total of 4 green beans last night. Mom also brought me 10 bags of frozen sweet corn. She said she knew our patch isn't very big so she thought we could use some for our winter stores. Thanks, Mom!
In exciting news. After V dropped J15 off at tae kwon do he went to our old house to get started (I was still at home with boys trying to get some laundry done). When he arrived at about 9:20 am there were cars in the driveway and people on the front porch. A realtor was showing our house to a young couple!!!! We haven't heard anything but V talked to them and told them that we would be doing some more work on the house this weekend so hopefully anything they found objectionable we can take care of. The realtor was from the same firm as out agent so we should get a report of what comments they made. It's only one showing but it's hopeful.