Friday, February 28, 2014

Challenge #8: Spring Clean Your Closets!

March is right around the corner, and March means spring, whether or not the current weather conditions reflect that or not.  In the old days, spring cleaning was an annual ritual, and many people still do a scrubbing and purging in the first warm season of the year.

For this week, our challenge is to get a little start on that spring cleaning by tackling your closets.  In particular, your bedroom closets and your coat closet(s).

My plan is to start with articles of clothing in those closets, and see which items can be released from our possession.  In other words, which pieces of clothes aren't going to get worn at this little place here any more, so I might as well donate them.  Donate either to someone I know who could use that exact item (such as a child-size Carhartt coat that my kids all grew out of but will fit a little boy at church whose parents would appreciate him having it), or donate to charity such as Goodwill or Salvation Army or St. Vincent's.

Once you've gone through the clothes and outerwear, if you still have time and energy, see if there are any shoes, boots, or accessories that are also sitting around gathering dust.  And whatever else you might find stashed in your closets that you have forgotten about.

Has it still got life left in it?  Donate it.  Is it worn out beyond any future usefulness?  Trash it.

I'm betting that once you've gone through that process, your closets will suddenly be a whole lot cleaner.  Mine usually are.  And while each closet is empty from all your removing and sorting, get rid of the cobwebs in the corners and sweep or vacuum the floor.  Then put back in the things that you are keeping; the things that still have purpose for you.

What an accomplishment!  Closets done.  Now you have a big head start on your spring cleaning.

If you're feeling really ambitious, do the same with your dressers.  Then, sometime in the coming week, drop off everything you decided to donate.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

So It's Cold. . . That Doesn't Mean I'm Incapacitated

This is what the thermometer looked like at 8:30 a.m.  Mind you, this was after I'd gone to the horse farm, fed and watered the horses, then drove home again and fed and watered my chickens.  Also after DH had stoked the wood boiler and gone to work, DD1 had gone to work, and DD2 had gone to school.

 A little bit cold.

This is what the field looked like at the same time, since the wind was cranking about 20 mph from the north, and it was also snowing lightly.  I'd driven through pretty much white-out conditions on my way home from the horse farm ten minutes earlier.

Just for kicks and comparison, here are two pictures of my driveway.

Today, when I got home:

And, taken from just about the same spot, a few weeks ago after I'd been out plowing, when it wasn't currently blowing snow:

What is my point so far?  Well, that it is a) pretty cold out, and b) that our daily activities went as normal, despite the cold, wind, and snowy conditions.  Stoke the boiler, go to work, go to school, feed the animals.  The weather has not hindered us today.

Yesterday was cold and windy too, although minus the snow shower.  I did a lot of indoor activities yesterday, just as I have planned for today.  Yesterday I baked bread, made granola, made banana bars, made chicken and dumplings for dinner, did five loads of laundry, and sewed myself a new apron.  The weather might have kept me indoors more than usual, but it certainly didn't hamper my productivity.

my new apron

close up of apron fabric

Likewise, the weather is not incapacitating me today either.  Breakfast was made and served and eaten.  Animals have been taken care of.  Housework (and cleaning) will get done.  I'm planning to run some errands later this morning when the snow (but not the wind) stops.  I'll probably do some knitting on my latest pair of socks.

sock underway,
in trekking xxl yarn, color #470
(on size 0 needles, rather than the 2's recommended, which is probably why I am getting psychedelic pooling rather than the self-striping the yarn is known for)

Dinner will get made (tonight's menu:  venison sloppy joes with either baked sweet potatoes, or sweet potato fries, I haven't totally decided yet).  I will go to Parent Night at the high school (last home basketball game of the year) and walk with DD2 when she is introduced as one of the varsity cheerleaders.  I will go to choir practice.  Life will continue, despite the fact that it is cold outside.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Plugging My Ears and Closing My Eyes

That is what I feel like doing lately, with all the hyping of weather conditions that this winter has had in the media.  Attention grabbing headlines on the internet, fear mongering on the television stations, and people are all whipped up about any little change in weather.  Or lack of change in weather (ooooh, it's been below freezing for 30 entire days in January!!)

Temperatures rise above freezing?  Oh my goodness, all this snow is going to melt in an instant and cause flash floods, and we're all going to die!!!

Temperatures hover at freezing, and precipitation highly likely?  Oh my goodness, it's going to be an ice storm of epic proportions!!  And you know what happened last time you had an ice storm, right?  Your power was out for nearly a week.  Fear!  Panic!  Horror!

Temperatures below freezing?  Oh my goodness, we are having such cold, cold weather waaaaayyyyy below normal temperatures for this time of the year!  It's the beginning of the next Ice Age.

Temperatures below freezing with more snow on the way?  Oh my goodness, everyone is going to get snowed in and starve to death!  Rooves are going to cave in under all the weight of the snow!!

Bah.  That's what I say.  Bah.  Baloney.  Bullsh--.  Just shut up all ready.  Take a look at the numbers, that's all that is relevant.  The number that tells high and low temperatures for the day.  The number that tells the percentage chance of precipitation and the number that says how much precipitation in inches.  The number that tells you wind speed.  Looking at the letter or letters that indicate wind direction are pretty telling too.  But don't look at any words!!  Don't read those!!  Don't listen to those!!  Those are where they throw in the stuff that sells.  Fear!!

High temperatures in Michigan in late February and early March that are in the teens and twenties?  Yeah, lower than average, but not unheard of.  Not anything to get your panties in a wad over.  Ice storms this time of year?  Pretty typical, actually.  When your temperature is bouncing in and out of the thirties and there is precipitation (and there is always precipitation in late Feb. and early March) you are going to get one of two things pretty much daily:  rain turning to ice, or wet heavy snow.  Yeah, your power might go out.  You have lived through this before, if you've lived in Michigan for more than a few years, so you should know this is normal, and you should be prepared.

What you should not be doing is letting the media whip you all into a frenzy.  When can you pack away your ice scraper, snow shovel, and winter gear?  In June, duh.  Because that is the first month you are pretty much guaranteed to not need them anymore.  Late February is not the end of winter.  Nor is the beginning of March.  There is no magic switch that turns the weather to a consistent fifty degrees and ends all possibility of snow or ice.  To think that at this time of year you're going to have anything other than a fluctuation from freezing to thawing, with occasional cold snaps harking back to mid-winter, is ludicrous.

Okay.  Ears stuffed with cotton, eyes focused only on numerical data when I peruse the weather sites for info.  No lip reading when the weatherman on TV gives his report.  Nope.  Save the words for something else.  As far as the weather forecast is concerned, give me data; it doesn't stretch the truth.  Besides, the forecast is at best a pretty good guess, by computers, based on past and present atmospheric conditions, at what the atmosphere is going to be like in the future.  It is not infallible.  It is not written in stone.  It is not anything to dose yourself with anti-anxiety meds over.  Weather has been happening since time immemorial, and the world has not ended yet.

End rant.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Last Good Round of Cold

The temperatures have begun falling again at this little place here.

The weekend was nice, hovering around the freezing mark, and I finished pruning the orchard, while DH decided to haul in a few more loads of wood with the Bearcat and the dog sled.  You can never have enough wood, you know.

We lost quite a bit of snow at the end of last week.  Not counting where it was drifted, I'd say there is only about 4-5" left on the ground in most places.  And the paths we used all winter are down to bare ground now.

Yesterday, the weather turned toward the colder side again.  Temperatures are supposed to continue dropping, down, down, even getting below zero at night, until the end of this week.  Then they will slowly go back up again.

Being that this is the last week of February, I predict this cold spell will be the last good round of cold for the winter.  March is, after all, by and large a muddy month.  Can't very well have mud when your daytime high is only twenty degrees.

Besides, March is tree tapping time.  And sap doesn't really run until you have strings of days over forty degrees.

So, we're looking eagerly to this cold snap.  It is a harbinger of spring to come, of a warming trend due to start any time now.  And once that happens, things will really be hopping around here.  For after sap season comes gardening season.  Gardening season is long, and busy.  Sun up til sun down kind of work hours.

I've all ready got my seeds and onion starts ordered.  Most of my seeds have arrived.  Time to bring the seed starting supplies in from the barn and let them warm up.  Time to rearrange things in the house to make room for seed trays and grow lights.

Time to enjoy the cold, and the respite from work that winter brings, before it is gone.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Something New Out Of Something Old

I've been working on a jean quilt for about a month.  I had a stash of old jeans, denim shorts, and denim shirts that were worn out, or stained, or otherwise unfit for donation.  The intent of the stash, when I began collecting it, was to make myself a denim quilt the same size as the one I'd made DH several years ago.  He uses his when camping, and since we don't own sleeping bags, I thought it would be nice to have one of my own so that when camping together we could layer them just like when you zip two same size sleeping bags together to make one large one.

When I decided it was time to tackle that stash of off-cast denim and turn it into a quilt, I began by cutting the seams out of several pairs of old jeans.  The seams are just too hard to work with in a quilt; the denim itself is thick, and when you are trying to sew two pieces together, that is a tall task for a sewing machine needle.  To ask it to do two pieces when one or both of them includes a seam . . . well, expect a lot of broken needles.  I did keep some of the pockets, if they were fairly thin, just to add interest to my quilt, but tried to cut them so that no existing seams were on the sewing lines.

In my stash, I also found a few pair of worn out denim shorts of mine that I had forgotten about; a gingham checked pair and a yellow pair.  There was also a peach colored denim shirt DH had gotten me in 1998 when he was on assignment out in New Jersey for 5 months (and I was home alone with four young kids).  I'd worn that shirt till the cuffs and collar frayed and it had many stains on it.  But there was still usable fabric, so it too had gone into the box with the future denim quilt fodder.  I guess you could say that shirt has some meaning, since I obviously kept it with the intent of making a quilt out of it despite it's stains.

Once I had the shorts, the shirt, and about eight pair of jeans cut into 6" squares, I started counting.  I needed 300 squares for my project.  On average, I was getting 20 squares from an adult size pair of jeans, so that gave me a pretty good guess at how many more pairs of jeans I needed to pull out of the stash in order to have enough denim squares. Some of the oldest jeans I found were larger child sizes, even a few pair with embroidery on the legs, and I used those also. I think I ended up with two extra squares in the end.  They'll go to some future project.  The box of old jeans did not get totally emptied before I hit my 300 squares, so obviously there are some more recycled denim creations in the years to come.

I like my jean quilts to be random, rather than a planned pattern of colors, so once I had all 300 squares cut, I used my highly scientific method of organizing them into a random assortment:  I tossed them, one by one, around my bedroom floor, being careful none of them went under the bed or dressers.  Then I picked them up into twenty stacks of fifteen squares.  Sort of like the 'fifty-two pick up' method of shuffling cards.  Voila, no planned pattern here!

Sewing those stacks into twenty rows of fifteen squares each, pressing them after each row was sewn, and sewing those twenty rows into a quilt top took a while.  I was near the end of all that sewing when I realized I didn't have any large pieces of flannel for the backing.  All the other jean quilts I've made, I've used flannel for the back.  Being so heavy, denim quilts don't really need batting for warmth, just a nice fuzzy backing.

Now, I could have gone to the fabric store and purchased about 6-7 yards of new fabric.  But I didn't want to.  Not only didn't I want to cough up the money for new fabric, I had remembered that eons ago, I had bought a huge piece of mint green baby wale corduroy (most likely on sale) with the intent of making my daughters some jumpers.  I'd never actually gotten around to making those jumpers, so that massive cut of corduroy should still be in my possession somewhere.

I located it, unfolded it, and was pleased to see it was enough to back my newly made quilt top with (plus about 2/3 yard to spare!).  Hooray!  Being baby wale, it is soft, almost like flannel.  And corduroy is a warm fabric too.  Plus, green is my favorite color, so being a light green made it the perfect thing to use for the backing of my very own personal jean quilt.

Before sewing the top to the backing, I took five minutes to stitch my name in one of the squares.  Just because I can, and I wanted to.  DH's quilt has his name stitched on it (less likely to get 'accidentally' swiped by one of his camping buddies on the times I'm not on the same trip), so I felt since I was making a sorta matched set with mine, it needed my name on it.  I used embroidery floss in an shade that is pretty much an exact match to the corduroy.

stitching same color as backing

Once the top and the back had been stitched together, and turned right side out, came the pinning.  This is to keep the two layers aligned so that there would be no shifting or bunching while I tied the quilt.  I commandeered the floor where the living room and dining room meet for the pinning and tying.  I used some variegated yarn in blues, greens, and yellows to tie the quilt with.

Then I had a finished quilt!

all done

pocket from one of DS1's last pair of jeans from high school

embroidered pocket from DD2's middle school years

Without spending any new money, I have a keepsake that is both special, and useful.  Old ragged jeans and unused decade (or more!) old fabric have become a new creation.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Old Stuff

Yesterday, DD1 and I went to one of the antique markets in the area.  There are several within a twenty minute drive, yet we have very rarely gone to any of them.  After yesterday, that is about to change!

We had gone solely because I knew that the lady I buy honey from at the local farmers' market in the summer time also has a booth at this particular antique market.  And I am out of honey.  No honey means no granola.  So, I needed to go to the antique market!

Well, I picked a very good day to do so.  I got the honey I needed, and so much more!  Not that I spent very much money, just for the honey and for a lovely teacup and matching saucer that I will stash away for DD2's birthday (she collects old teacups).  It was the things I didn't spend money on that I most took away from my trip.

First of all, that particular market was having a special chocolate weekend.  Many of the vendors had free chocolate delights for your palate's pleasure.  Oh my!  Free chocolate!!  MMMMM!!! So DD1 and I pretty much had chocolate for lunch, and I came away with some new dessert creations to try at home (recipes not provided, but several of them I could figure how to make just from the tasting).

The second thing I came away with was ideas of how to put to use some of the antique and otherwise slightly kitschy items I have at this little place here.  Those blue canning jars inherited from DH's grandmother that I haven't dared actually can with because they are so old and valuable?   No longer do they need to hide, protected, in my cellar.  Nope, they have been moved to the kitchen, where I can enjoy them in an aesthetic manner.

Likewise some of my baskets that I use a lot during the gardening and farmers' market season, yet just take up space in my basement during the rest of the year.  Now the ones that fit above my kitchen cabinets dress up the room along with the blue Ball jars.  And a few chicken decorations that have recently made their way into my possession (50% off--decorating is not a high priority in our budget).

The third thing I got from my visit to the antique market was an enjoyable several hours with DD1.  We decided that we should make a monthly date to visit antique markets in the area.  We could probably get through six months of dates (at which time she will be moving to the west side of the state, transferring colleges) before we'd been to each of the other markets once.

The fourth thing I took home with me was the decision to take a list of items I've been wanting to acquire, and start looking for them at antique stores.  For instance, a cedar chest for DD2 is going to be purchased sometime in the next year or so.  DH and I had bought one for DD1 a few years ago, and been both overwhelmed at the cost, and underwhelmed at the quality of the brand new ones on the market.  I think I can find a better quality, better craftsmanship cedar chest for the same price, or maybe even less, if I start searching the antique markets.  After all, the cedar chest I have, that was given to me on my sixteenth birthday, had belonged to my great-grandmother before me.  It is at least eighty years old at this point, and way more solid than the one we purchased in 2012.

While I was sprucing up the kitchen with DH's grandmother's old canning jars, I also remembered another item we had inherited from her: a silver and copper platter.  It had sat on the top shelf of one of the cupboards since her death in 2005.  Now it sits atop a cupboard where it can be seen.

Old Stuff.  It shouldn't be underestimated. Just because it's old doesn't mean it's not useful.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What Do We Eat?

The vast majority of this week's posts have been focused on food.  Guess I'm on a roll. (*groan* a food pun, even!) So, what do we eat at this little place here if I'm not buying anything that comes in a box?  (Not true, by the way, powdered milk comes in a box.  Saltines come in a box.  Granola bars come in a box.  Pasta comes in a box--I didn't buy any pasta this month, cuz I still have a lot from my last stock up when it was 99 cents a box. . .  Which reminds me of one of my frugal tenets:  buy a lot when on sale; enough to get you through until the next sale.)

I gave you quite a few of the things we eat in my post Cooking Ahead, without actually naming them on a menu.  Now, to the best of my recollection, here are three weeks' worth of  actual dinners at this little place here.  Everything is pretty much from scratch, keeping in mind I don't (yet) make hot dogs or pepperoni myself.  Although now that we have a sausage stuffer, that day is definitely coming.

Sunday: cabbage & sausage casserole (homemade polish sausage)
Monday: chicken enchiladas
Tuesday: pizza calzones
Wednesday: potato soup w/fresh baked bread
Thursday: chili mac and applesauce
Friday: venison steak w/sauteed onions & mushrooms, salad, french fries
Saturday: hot dogs & brats, twice baked potatoes, dill pickles

Sunday: venison loin steaks over brown rice, sauteed onions & peppers
Monday: BBQ pork over boiled potatoes, corn
Tuesday: chicken noodle soup (used fettucini noodles, broken into thirds; sometimes I use wide egg noodles)
Wednesday: pork quesadillas, Spanish rice, refried beans, applesauce
Thursday: pasties
Friday: lasagna with garlic bread
Saturday: ham, fried onions & potatoes

Sunday: taco dip with tortilla chips (light dinner, had been to a funeral in the early afternoon and ate at the after-funeral meal) (note #2: my taco dip is taco meat, refried beans, shredded colby jack cheese, salsa, lettuce and sour cream)
Monday: venison stroganoff, green beans
Tuesday: potato soup (again--gotta use up those potatoes in the cellar!)
Wednesday: hamburgers on the grill (it was over 40 degrees outside, what can I say??), with sauteed onions & mushrooms, blue cheese, dill pickles, baked beans and french fries (using up them potatoes. . . )
Thursday: roast chicken, mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, corn
Friday: venison steak, boiled potatoes, florentine blend veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots)
Saturday:  chicken pot pie

What about breakfasts, you ask.  Well, breakfasts are usually pretty quick things, with maybe something more time consuming on a Saturday morning.  In Cooking Ahead, I talked about many different flavors of quick breads being an easy breakfast.

Typical breakfasts are any one of the following:
granola, fried eggs, scrambled eggs (with onions & cheese!), banana muffins, apple coffee cake, omelets, bagels & cream cheese, blueberry & cream cheese coffee cake, sour cream chocolate chip muffins, pumpkin muffins, strawberry muffins (in June), blueberry muffins, apple cinnamon muffins, pancakes, french toast, waffles, any flavor of quick bread. . .

Lunches are by and large leftovers from dinner.  You know: chili, chicken soup, spaghetti, pizza, extra pasties or calzones (that were wrapped in foil and put in the freezer just for lunchboxes).  Occasionally a sandwich like: hot ham & cheese, pb & blueberry j (or cherry, or strawberry, or peach, or pear or blackberry), or a tuna melt.  From time to time DH likes to just have pickled veggies (hot peppers, usually), summer sausage, cheese and crackers packed in his lunchbox.

Can't forget desserts.  We don't have dessert every night, usually just two or three per week.  In the past few weeks we've had:  lemon squares, oatmeal butterscotch cookies, ice cream w/caramel sauce, chocolate pudding, apple pie, no bake cookies, kiwi squares, walnut brownies, homemade chocolate heart candies (Valentine's Day), chocolate chip cookies.

Snacks are usually fruit, veggies like carrots and celery, nuts, or cheese and crackers.

As far as meat goes, the majority of our meat is venison, followed by chicken, then pork, then turkey, then beef.  Usually home raised, very rarely from the store.

There you have it.  What we eat at this little place here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Challenge #7: Try a New Recipe

This week somehow evolved to have an eating theme.  So, how about we make this week's challenge fit right in?

Try a new recipe.

What a fun challenge!  You can go about it in any number of ways.  You can look at what you need to use up (remember my withering kiwi turning into kiwi squares for dessert?  Or 2012's glut of squash and ensuing squash recipe mania at this little place here?) and then do an internet search for recipes using that item.  You can look in your own cookbooks for something that sounds good, then see if you have the ingredients on hand to make it.  Or, you can just pick a recipe out of the blue--or a cookbook, or off the internet--and go to the grocery store to buy what you need for it.

Really.  I personally am too cheap frugal to do it the third way, but you can.  I'll let you.

Meanwhile, I think I will be looking for a recipe for a potato dish I haven't tried.  Which is going to be challenging, as we really like potatoes and I've cooked them many different ways in the last two decades.  I'll let you know what I come up with.  Hmm, can I amend the rules of the challenge to include recipes we make up that aren't written down somewhere all ready?  Can I make a potato something-or-other up from my head and call it a new recipe?

Yes, yes I can.  And so can you.  Creating a whole new recipe will definitely count as trying a new recipe for this challenge.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cooking Ahead

More with the eating ;0)

Part of how we eat at this little place here involves cooking ahead, or at least planning ahead.

Our beans are bought dried; not pre-cooked and in a can.  Any chili, or bean soup, or hummus I want to eat requires that I first soak the beans overnight.  Takes 6-8 hours, but doesn't require anything from me other than putting them in a pot and covering them with water before I head off to bed and go to sleep.

Another example for you:  chickens.  When I butcher chickens I part out some of them, packaging by body part (leg quarters, breasts, wings) with the rest of the body (usually bones and a few stray small muscles) being the carcass for making soup out of.  The chickens that are left whole are automatically considered three meals:  usually a roast chicken the first meal, a chicken potpie the second meal, and chicken soup (using the bones and little bits of meat not used the first two meals) as the third meal.  Variations are chicken fajitas, chicken burritos, chicken quesadillas, chicken tetrazzini, or chicken and dumplings.

Other large meat chunks are treated the same.  A ham is multiple meals (ham dinner, scalloped potatoes & ham, fried potatoes & ham, ham in an omelet or scrambled eggs), or one meal plus leftovers sliced for lunch meat.  And the bone can be used to flavor pea soup--or bean soup, but I prefer smoked hocks in my bean soup. A pork shoulder roast normally becomes BBQ pork and another dish using shredded pork (pork quesadillas, anyone?).  A beef pot roast is a yummy pot roast dinner, and also lunch meat, or shredded hot beef sandwiches.  Even a meatloaf is expected to stretch for more than one meal:  it is dinner, and it is also sliced for meatloaf sandwiches at lunch time.

Breakfasts can be cooked ahead, too.  While I generally prefer my muffins hot out of the oven, quick breads such as zucchini, banana, strawberry, rhubarb, or pumpkin can be made the day before and served as a speedy breakfast the next morning.

When I make pancakes, french toast, or waffles, I normally make a batch that is a bit larger than needed that day, and then I wrap the extras in foil, and store them in the freezer for a day when we want a waffle or pancake or french toast, but don't have the time to make batter, heat the griddle, and do the cooking.  They are also super handy for when you need your kids to be able to feed themselves a filling breakfast before school.  Much better and cheaper than buying their equivalent in the grocery store freezer case.

Eating well doesn't have to be expensive.  And saving money doesn't have to be hard.  Plan ahead, cook ahead.  It will cover both good health and living frugal.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Eating and Shopping

Eating and shopping.  They are intrinsically related.  Those items which we do not grow/kill ourselves must be purchased.  I have to admit, I enjoy eating much more than shopping.  I might even go so far as to say I enjoy hunting/harvesting animals more than shopping.  At least with the taking of an animal's life to turn it into food, there is a sense of accomplishment, and a reverence for what it means to live, and to eat.  That reverence, and accomplished feeling, are both lacking when cruising the grocery aisles tossing things into a cart.

In all honesty, I find grocery shopping to be entirely frustrating.  There are so many items in their bold and colorful packaging clamoring for my attention.  It seems that the ones I really want, the real food, is in the drabbest packages, and often down low in hard to see spaces.  Why are the cheese sticks hanging right from eye to waist level in the refrigerated display case, where you can reach out and get several, but the 1.5 pound blocks of cheese in the same flavors are tucked down around knee to mid-shin height, half hidden under the lip of the case?  Frustrating.  Boxes of cereal?  They encompass head to knees of an entire aisle longer than my house, yet finding the rolled oats (not the add-water-and-eat oatmeal packets--just old fashioned oats that I make granola with) are somewhere in that confusing riot of color, cardboard, and cartoon characters, usually at floor level.

We don't eat much ready made stuff.  Less and less, actually, the more and more of it being reformulated to contain things like high fructose corn syrup or highly processed soybean oils, neither of which like me too much.  I'd rather go to the extra effort of combining ingredients and applying heat in my own kitchen to make the same thing rather than buy it ready to eat and end up with a migraine or a very punky stomach after consumption.

To give you an idea of what I do buy (which my girls mainly refer to as "ingredients" rather than food--they open the pantry looking for a crunchy snack and say "Mom, there isn't any food in here; just ingredients"), here is a summary of my receipts for my most recent grocery shopping excursion.  The "Big One" to last until the middle of March, when the next large shopping trip is scheduled.  I will pick up a few odds and ends between now and then, such as milk, and toilet paper (my preferred brand was not on sale today), but for most items this is pretty much it until the Ides of March arrives.

water softener salt
Fels Naptha soap (for making laundry soap)
light bulbs
ziploc baggies--sandwich size and quart size
pkg of 250 napkins
"little cups", aka paper bathroom cups for rinsing after brushing teeth
kitchen trash bags

4 pounds carrots (might need to buy more)
1 head celery (might need to buy more)
4 large sweet potatoes
2 pounds bananas (most likely will buy more in 2 weeks)
6 cans tuna (the 'spensie kind that only has fish and water in it, no broth or soy oil)
15 pounds unbleached flour
1.5 pounds lettuce, red leaf and green leaf (will buy more)
3 gallons milk (will buy more)
1 dozen bagels (I really need to perfect making these, it's cheaper)
2 boxes graham crackers (ditto)
2 boxes oat & honey crunchy granola bars (ditto)
10 pounds sugar (which I will probably use only 5 or 6 pounds of in a month, but the 10-pounder is cheaper than two 5 pound bags)
4 pounds brown sugar (again, won't need that much, but the 4 pound bag was on sale.  So, next month's brown sugar is taken care of too)
wasabi almonds
tequila (what can I say, DH has been hankering for some margaritas lately)
12 pack IPA (we really need to get back to home brewing; it's been a year and a half!!)
4 cans cream of mushroom soup
6 cans sliced mushrooms
2 boxes saltine crackers
1 bag oyster crackers
1 bag bacon bits
1/2 gallon orange juice
4 pounds semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 pound mini chocolate chips (for on granola cereal and in muffins)
1 pound sliced American cheese
2 pounds extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 pound colby jack cheese
4 8-oz pkgs cream cheese
2 pounds sour cream
2 pounds roasted peanuts
2 pounds pistachios
5 pounds tangerines
2 pounds seedless grapes
2 cans refried beans (naughty me, I should make these)
3 pounds rolled oats
2 pounds whole bean coffee
2 pound frozen corn kernels
1 box powdered milk (for hot chocolate mix and hamburger helper-style dinner mixes)
1 quart canola/sunflower blend oil
2 pounds basmati rice
3 pounds brown rice
1 pound flaked coconut
1 bag mini marshmallows (can't make hot chocolate without marshmallows!)
1 pound dried navy beans
1 pound dried northern beans
1 pound dried mayocoba beans
1 pound dried black beans
2 pound dried red beans
4 pounds butter (will need more, but wasn't on sale and I'm out)
1 pound iodized salt

And that's it.  What don't you see?

  • Breakfast cereal.  Frozen waffles.  Pop tarts.  Cookies. Bread. Muffins or coffee cakes.--All those I make myself (well, not pop tarts, but I do have a recipe for them!)
  • Cheese cubes or sticks or shreds.  
  • Any canned veggies--because all the canned ones we eat are homegrown and home canned and sitting in my cellar, as are most of the frozen ones too.  Just wasn't a good year for corn last year and I didn't get any put up.  
  • Meat--The vast majority of mine is home grown or hunted, I buy very little meat.  (I confess, I was cruising the meat department for some beef, but even on sale it was way more than I am willing to pay.  Geez, for that price I'll save my pennies and buy it on the hoof next fall.  It will be better quality, too). 

What is ready to eat?

  • Carrots, 
  • celery, 
  • tangerines, 
  • grapes, 
  • bananas, 
  • three kinds of nuts, 
  • cheese if you cut it yourself, 
  • granola bars (for DH's lunchbox), 
  • graham crackers, 
  • the bagels, 
  • milk, 
  • oj. 
The sort of stuff (well, maybe excepting the bagels, and graham crackers) that people should eat when they want an easy snack rather than all that other stuff at the store in those colorful bags and individual wrappers inside boxes sitting at eye level on miles of store shelves.

The cellar at this little place here also holds apples still from last fall's harvest (Sept/Oct to Feb in cold storage, and my home grown apples are still in fine shape, looking just as pretty as the ones at the grocery store, only they are 100% organic and traveled zero miles to get to my house.), as well as canned pears and peaches, and both applesauce and pear sauce.  Potatoes are still holding out down there; in fact I think I grew too many or maybe we haven't been eating potatoes often enough this winter. I still have 1.5 bushels left.  Some will be this year's seed potatoes, but still. . . I need to put potatoes on the menu just about daily from now til April; they won't store much longer than that.

Speaking of the cellar, I think that is my favorite place to go shopping.  It has exactly what I need, with all the right ingredients and none of the bad things I don't want to eat.  It is my personal, customized grocery store.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Using It Up

Being frugal means not letting much go to waste.  I'd say not letting anything go to waste, but, well, experience has shown that it is pretty much impossible to never waste anything.

Because it has always been important to DH and I that our family be able to live on one income--so that I could be home with the kids as much as possible while they were growing up--frugality has been a requirement.  The less wasted, the more efficient our money is.  The less wasted, the less gets thrown out and the less we need trash removal services (ours is currently the lowest plan offered on a weekly basis).  The less wasted, the less we need to bring into our home.  It's a cycle.  I think some people call it 'the simple life', yet it is far from simple.  Being frugal can be pretty complex sometimes.

Through the years, there are some things that have just become a normal part of life for me.  Such as creatively using foods that most people would rather toss out because they no longer look grocery store perfect.  Withered apples that have been in storage too long.  Potatoes with growths from their eyes.  Bananas that are just about completely brown.  Carrots and celery that are a bit slack.

All are still perfectly edible, perfectly safe to ingest.  Brown bananas make the tastiest banana breads, muffins, and bars.  Withered apples can be sliced and cooked into fried apples or diced and made into apple coffee cake with no one being the wiser except the chef.  Potatoes with growths?  Peel (and you can actually plant those peels with the sprouts on them for a new crop of potatoes) and cook as usual.  Wimpy carrots and celery turn out fine in the soup pot.

Recently I bought some kiwi fruit (on sale, and with a coupon to boot!).  The first six got eaten quickly, as kiwi is somewhat of a treat at this little place here.  The remaining two sat in the fruit drawer of the fridge for over a week, looking like they were attempting to turn into kiwi raisins (Hmm, is there such a thing?  Future science experiment? Maybe I should Google it.) until I decided that apparently nobody in my house wanted to eat them anymore.

So, being the frugalista I am, I looked up recipes that called for two kiwi fruit.  And, by the magic of the internet search engine, I found exactly that.  Who knew you could make kiwi squares pretty much the same way you make lemon squares?  Not I.  Not until the other day.

Those two over aged kiwi got eaten as dessert in their new, baked form.  They were okay.  Not as tasty as lemon squares, but at least the kiwi got used up instead of wasted.

Creativity in the kitchen (and turning a blind eye to less than picture perfect fruits and veggies) is a must for a frugal lifestyle.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sometimes We Think We're 20

It started as a beautiful sunny Saturday, with a high in the low twenties.  Gorgeous, calm, sparkly day.  I did some housework while DH headed outside to stoke the wood boiler.

Soon I heard a snowmobile start up, and when I peeked out the window, I saw him tinkering with the Bearcat and the dog sled.

The dog sled?  Yes, we own a dog sled.  We came into it in a roundabout way:  DD1 was fishing with her uncle (DH's brother) one summer when she was younger, and she spotted the dog sled submerged in the lake that the uncle lives on.  Several months later, DH's brother surprised us with it--he'd hauled it out of the lake and brought it down to this little place here, thinking we could rig it up to haul behind the snowmobile so the kids could all ride.  At that time DS1 was still in high school, and the rest of them were small enough to fit two on our single sled, so with the dog sled all four could go round the field at the same time.

Well, the snowmobile we had at the time didn't work well for that, something about the tongue of the sled and the track of the snowmobile. . .   So the dog sled sat beside the barn for several  a whole lot of years.

Until pretty much now, when DH decided to try hauling firewood in from the woods with the dog sled and the Bearcat.  You see, the wood pile has shrunk at an alarming rate the past six weeks.  What is left of it will last another month by our estimate, and we don't want to have to turn the propane heat on this season.  Knowing there are multiple stacks of firewood out in the woods ready for the burning, DH wanted to retrieve some of them while the snow is still good for sledding.  It is too deep for using the tractor currently, and our ten-day weather forecast is calling for a big, mushy, muddy warm up to head our way.  Not very conducive to getting that firewood up to the boiler unless we do it now with the snowmobile.

Anyway,  DH hooked the dog sled to the Bearcat and proceeded to haul four or five loads of firewood from the stacks we have scattered throughout our woods and that of the neighboring farmer to the north (who doesn't heat with wood, and has told us numerous times to help ourselves to the blow-downs and deadfall on his property.)  Turns out the Bearcat and the dog sled are a great team.

Well, it was such a nice sunny, temperate day that once I was done with my housework, I suited up and jumped on one of our other snowmobiles just to have some fun tooling around the fields for a while.  Actually, tooling around sounds much more sedate than what I was doing.  When you have 1200 foot straightaways and no traffic, well, you can open that baby up.

So anyway, I proceeded to have some fun that is probably inappropriate for a woman my age, and after nearly separating myself from the snowmobile at high speed a few times (mogul-like snow drifts), and nearly rolling it on turns a few others (whoops, a bit too sharp too fast), I decided to go back into the house and cool off.  Yes, cool off.  All that snowmobile hi jinks had me a bit sweaty.  Those machines aren't light and do require a little muscling sometimes.

Later in the day, after DH had hauled an extra few weeks worth of wood for the boiler, and had his own fun on the zippy red snowmobile, we decided to load the dog sled up with the chainsaw and our other tree pruning accoutrements, and head back to the woods to work on some of those wild apple trees.

We spent a good hour and a half--until the sun went down--working back there, including a bit of "don't try this at home" with DH and the chainsaw about eight feet in the air doing some topping out of a tree or two.

I swear, sometimes he forgets he's heading to his mid-forties and thinks he's still 20 years old.  Which is kind of ironic, because other days he is achy and feeling his age, complete with a touch of arthritis developing in the foot, ankles, and leg he broke when he was 20.  Proof, I guess, that men grow old, but never really grow up.

Me?  As for my behavior on occasion, I plead the fifth.  :0)

Anyway, Saturday was a nice day.  Productive, yet also really fun at times.  And neither DH nor I killed ourselves while acting half our age.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Challenge #6: Love Yourself

With Valentine's Day here, I'm sure we've all seen the commercials for things you can buy to show someone you love them.  Buy your wife this sparkly diamond pendant from Big Name Chain Jeweler and let her know how much you love her.  Order now these lovely dozen roses off this florist's website and get a discount rather than paying through to nose at your local florist on the 14th.  Ladies, buy this little bit of silk and colored lace, wear it, and let your man know how much you love him.  Buy these overpriced chocolates to let the special person in your life know how much you love them.  Make your reservations now at Le Pricey Ristorante for a steak dinner that weighs more than your man's clunky winter boots, and he'll love you forever.  Or, alternately, take your woman to Le Pricey Ristorante and get her drunk on overpriced wine and, well. . . .you can fill in the blank with your own fantasy.

We get it.  Valentine's Day means loving someone and showing it either by giving them a material item, or providing a service for them. Jewelery.  Flowers.  Candy.  Steak.  Alcohol.  Sexy apparel.  Love, love, love.

But what about you?  What if you don't have a person in your life who will buy you any of those things?  Or maybe you have a person who would love to buy you gifts if they could, but the money just isn't there right now.  Or maybe you have a person, but they just aren't a demonstrative romantic.

Often, that leaves us feeling bad.  Unloved.  We know better (or maybe we don't), but we still feel that somehow we are less worthy than those around us sporting gifts in red or pink wrappers this mid-February day.

So, this week's challenge is to Love Yourself.

If you don't, who will?  Do something nice for yourself.  It doesn't have to require spending money (but certainly can if finances allow!).  Loving yourself is more of a mindset than a material object.

Eat something you love.  Watch a movie you like.  Go somewhere you've wanted to go, but haven't because your spouse, or children, or friends weren't really all that interested in going there.  Pamper yourself--maybe a long soak in the tub, maybe curl up on the couch with a good book, maybe an appointment for a massage or mani/pedi if that's your thing.  Do your favorite hobby, or sign up to take a class in a new one you've been thinking of trying.  Listen to your favorite music.

Loving ourselves is often the most difficult task we face in life, so we push it aside and focus our attention on showing others how much we love them.  Yet if no one reciprocates, we are left feeling worthless, undeserving of love.

Which is really a bunch of bull.  Everyone is deserving of love, just by virtue of being alive.

Love yourself.  You are worth it.  Flowers or not.  Jewelry or not.  Steak or not.  Card with hearts and poetry or not.  Lingerie or not.  Love yourself.

Remember, you can't make anyone else happy; only they can make themselves happy.  Which also means that no one can make you happy, except you.

Love yourself.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Canning Jars--When They're Empty

I think we probably all know what to do with our canning jars when they are full:  line them up on shelves and admire our handiwork.  :0)

But what about after we've eaten the contents of the jars?  Then what do we do with them?

Here is what I do with them.

First, they get washed with the dishes that night.  Then they air dry upside down in the dish drainer until the next day.  After that, they get put into this handy dandy tote I got years ago.

The tote lives in the cabinet next to my dishwasher, and I add jars to it until it is full.  It holds about 10 pint or 8 quart jars or a combination thereof.  When it is full, I carry it down to the cellar, where both full and empty jars are stored, and empty it out.  Usually while I'm down there emptying, I do a little cellar shopping and fill the tote back up with jars of food to take to the pantry in the kitchen.  I try to keep a couple week's worth of canned goods on hand in the pantry, with the rest staying down in the cellar.

Once the empty jars are to the cellar, they go in a couple of places.  The gallon and half-gallon (which don't fit in the tote, but occasionally get used and so are included) go up on the top shelf.  They are for things like pickled eggs and sun tea and anything else that requires a really large jar.

The other sizes go into labeled storage containers based on size and type.  My storage bins are all Rubbermaid 18 gallon totes that I have collected through the years (on sale, of course).

Ugh, albino cellar spider got in the picture!
On the other hand, let's turn this into a learning experience:
  "Look!  A perfect example of the lack of pigmentation in subterranean species!"

Once those are full, usually toward mid-winter, I have to start putting my empty jars on the cellar shelves themselves.  I try to keep them grouped by size and mouth-opening (wide versus regular) in whatever areas we have all ready used up most of the full jars.

I'd love to keep all like jars together in containers to help keep them clean, but, alas, the stores around me no longer carry my preferred brand (Rubbermaid) and I'm not about to buy the brand they do offer.  I tried that brand a while back and found their bins to be more brittle and not last nearly as long. My Rubbermaid bins are all 12-20 years old and still going strong.  So, until I come up with a better solution, empty jars go into their assigned storage bins, and once the bins are full, the empty jars go on the shelves.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mystery Meat

One of the hazards of having home raised meat (versus meat bought at the store) is that now and then we end up with a package that is unlabeled.  Mystery Meat.

Most times we can make an educated guess what is under the white wrapper (aka freezer paper) based on what portion of the freezer the mystery package was located in.  Or, if worse comes to worse, we can always unwrap it and take a peek.

However, once in a while, we get a package that is unlabeled and I have no idea what it is!  Such is the case with the meat I am cooking today.

Today's mystery meat came to me a while back (okay, over a year ago.  Mystery meat is scary stuff) as part of a couple of boxes of meat that Mother-in-Law had sent home with DH's sister who lives not far from us. Sister was to bring the boxes of meat to us (she also had her own two boxes of meat to keep).  So, by the time the boxes arrived at my house, via DH going to his sister's place to pick them up--and getting a brief overview from her of what their mother had sent--the large roast-looking thing half out of it's unmarked freezer paper was truly a mystery.  DH had no clue what cut it was.  His sister could shed no light on it's identity either.  What I had in front of me was a frozen hunk of something. . . about six pounds worth, with at least one bone in it (a rib, I think), some fat on the edges, and the flesh was kind of reddish.  Most of the meat in the boxes Mother-in-Law had sent were pork from the pig she had taken to the butcher the week before.  But there were also a few packages of beef cuts too.

Hmm.  The meat looked rather red for pork. Yet it didn't seem quite the right shade for beef.  At the time, I rewrapped it with fresh freezer paper, wrote "Beef?  Pork?  Roast" on the package, and stuffed it into the chest freezer.

From time to time since that day, I have stumbled across it in the bottom recesses of the deep freeze.  Intimidated by it's lack of species identification, I have looked the other way and instead grabbed roasts that were clearly marked.

Until now.  Now I have come to a point where it is the only roast left in the freezer.  Gulp.  Time to face the mystery meat.  And, note to self, time to really push for DH to allow me to start raising our meat since his mother is no longer the reliable source she used to be.  Used to be we'd ask her to raise a pig for us, and she'd do it with us paying for feed and butchering.  Except for when she decides, half-way through the raising, that it somehow isn't fair to DH's siblings that we get a whole pig, so she divides one pig five ways.  Ugh.  Which creates a scarcity of meat in my freezer right about now.  Especially since DH's sisters don't want hocks and sausage, just chops and hams and bacon and roasts.

Anyway. . .

I allowed ye olde mystery meat to thaw in the fridge all weekend.  This morning, I unwrapped it, smelled it (yeah, like meat that has been in the deep freeze for over a year is really going to smell like fresh beef or fresh pork, sometimes I amaze myself), and attempted to put it into my six quart crock pot.

No go.  The darn bones (I have determined there is more than one, it might be some sort of rib roast??  I think I might even see some split vertebrae) are too long to fit into even my big crock pot.  Well shoot.

Plan B.  I got out the covered enamel roaster I usually use for chickens, and stuck it in that instead.  Tossed some of my fail safe meat seasonings on it (namely Lawry's, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder), poured in a cup of water to keep the mystery meat from sticking to the roaster, put the lid on, and stuffed it in the oven on 325 degrees.  For a long time.

Well, for an afternoon.  Nearly four hours so far.  Whatever it is (I think a pork shoulder cut at the spine and then in half??), it is going to end up as shredded/pulled meat at dinner time.  I just have to decide now whether to go with barbecue sauce on it, or if I want to spice it up Mexican with chili powder and cumin, or if I want to go with pasta and tomato sauce to try to make it Italian.

Because if it truly is a giant hunk of pork, I'm going to require some strong flavors to mask the porkiness.  I typically prefer my pork smoked, as in ham or bacon or hocks rather than as a roast.  Or in thinner cuts I can grill or shake-n-bake (homemade seasoning, of course) like chops and steaks.

But at least the mystery meat will be dealt with.  It will get eaten, and no longer lurk menacingly in my freezer.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Challenge #5: Go Outside!!

Here's your challenge for this weekend/this coming week:

Go Outside!

Truly, no matter how wet, snowy, cold, etc your weather is, put on some clothes appropriate for conditions, and get yourself outside for at least half an hour.  Most people do not spend enough time outside any time of year, and especially in the winter.  Go outside.  The fresh air will do you good.  And half an hour is not going to kill you, even if your wind chills are twenty below zero, as long as you are dressed warmly.  That means hats, gloves, scarf over face, boots, heavy coat, and long johns under your jeans (if you don't have snow pants or other bibs for a second layer on top of jeans) for you northern people.

Now, what do you do outside for your half hour?  Well, maybe you just take a walk down the road--or on the sidewalks if you have them.  Or maybe you get silly and make a few snow angels in the yard.  Or maybe you just walk around and look at naked trees.

Really.  Look at those bare trees.  Up close, they are fascinating this time of year.  They aren't dead, they just have no leaves.  Look closely and you'll see the developing bud tips for this Spring's leaves and blossoms.  Look at the bark near the ends of the branches, and you might see a color difference from closer to the trunk.  That is new growth.

If you have equipment available to you, and ice or snow, take a snowmobile ride.  Or go skiing.  Or snow shoeing. Or sledding.  Or snowboarding.  Or ice skating.  Or even ice fishing!

If your snow is more wet than powdery, try making a snowman.  Or some snowballs.  Take someone outside with you and have a snowball fight.  Or a contest to see who can hit the most trees with snowballs (or the side of the house, just not the windows!).  Build a snow fort, or try your hand at igloo building.

Take your camera outside and practice a little amateur photography.  Just remember to keep the camera inside your coat (versus in your pocket) when you aren't actually aiming it at anything.  Your body heat will help keep those batteries warm.  Camera batteries (well, any battery, really) don't like cold and will die quicker the longer they are exposed to cold temperatures.

Winter is no season to avoid going outside. There are lots of enjoyable things to experience outdoors in the winter time. Get out there!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Adventures in Plowing

We got about six inches of new snow overnight and this morning.  Of course, it was accompanied by a north wind, so all that fluffy powder drifted really well.  So well that when I got home about one o'clock this afternoon, my driveway was pretty much drifted shut.  All nearly five hundred feet of it.

Being adventurous (which could also be a synonym for 'stupid' or 'naive'), when I was halfway through my turn into the driveway from the road, and I saw all those deep drifts in front of me, I sat down deep in my seat, took a good grip on the steering wheel, gritted my teeth with determination, and hit the gas!  I love me my four wheel drive trucks!

Bucking and sending snow flying all the way up the driveway, around the left loop and right to the front of the garage, I was gonna make it to my destination, or have a great story to tell about how the Suburban ended up in the hay field!  Putting it into park on the cement apron was almost anticlimactic.

Except that I knew I'd been darn lucky to not get stuck, and neither of my daughters, nor my DH would be able to make it up the driveway in their cars when they returned home today (DH usually drives a company car Monday through Friday).  Not with drifts that would come almost to their hoods.  So, therefore, it was up to me to plow the driveway.

More adventure!  Hooray!  I have to confess that while I regularly plow the driveway at the horse farm, I very rarely plow our driveway at this little place here.  That is something DH does.  So, while I have tons of experience plowing a driveway with the front end loader of a 4300 series John Deere tractor with lug tires, I have no experience plowing a curving 500 feet with the loader bucket and back blade of a John Deere 790 with industrial tires.

Hence the adventure.  My challenge:  get at least one loop of the driveway cleared all the way to the road, wide enough to get a car through, without getting the tractor stuck.

Well, I'd been out there about half an hour, and was only maybe 100 feet down the driveway, alternately scooping with the bucket and pushing with the back blade when I see this young man walking up the driveway, wading through drifts and coming toward me.  I'd noticed him and his plow truck pull into the neighbor's drive across the street about five minutes earlier.

Hmm, I thought, maybe this nice young man is coming to ask if I'd like him to plow out my driveway with his truck. Wouldn't that be nice!  Because by then I'd figured out that it was going to take me forever to get my driveway plowed with our dinky tractor and it's not-so-grippy tires.  The adventure wasn't looking so appealing any more.

But no, he wasn't coming to ask if I'd like to hire him to plow my driveway open.  Instead, he was coming to ask if I could help him.  It turns out that he'd slid a bit sideways in his truck with his last pass up the neighbor's driveway, and the back quarter of his truck was a mere inch from the back bumper of a truck that was parked diagonal near the end of the driveway.  His plow blade was in the snowbank he'd created, so there was no room to go forward and adjust position.  Backwards would result in his truck and the parked truck colliding, and neither paint job would be pretty after that.

So, could I please take my tractor across the street and give the back end of his truck a yank sideways?  Oh, and by the way, was I DS1's mom?  And had DS1 ever mentioned the name Such-and-Such?

Weeeelllll. . . Yes, I sure was willing to try to yank that truck out of it's predicament.  And yes, I am DS1's mom.  And yes, that name did sound vaguely familiar (although I couldn't remember if he was one of DS1's high school partners in crime, or one of the schoolmates that had antagonized DS1 all through high school--and blown up or otherwise wrecked 6 mailboxes belonging to me as well as spray painted nasty words on the road at the end of our driveway during DS1's school years. . .).

Long story short, I managed to blast my way out of the driveway with the tractor, Such-and-Such had a nice tow strap in his truck, he wrapped it around the frame of his truck where he wanted me to apply pressure, and I proceeded to yank the heck out of a plow truck until it was free.

Am I cool, or what?!?  Saving the bacon of a young man in his mid-twenties.  Yes, I am some kind of cool, even with a dinky tractor and gardening tires.

After that, I had to go back to my own driveway (Such-and-Such was plowing for his father and had other driveways to open up before their owners got home from work, but he did give me $20 for my help).  It took me another hour to accomplish, but I managed to get from the road, around the right hand loop, and all the parking area near the garage plowed.  Then I took pictures of my handiwork, and came in the house.  DH can get the left loop opened when he gets home.  I've got dinner to cook.

the right loop;
which is about 1/2 the length of what I plowed

teenager parking area plowed
(Suburban temporarily parked there so I could plow the cement apron to the garage)

lots of turning room at the garage area

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Burger Veggie Soup

That's what I'm calling the recipe I made up last night.  I wanted to have soup for dinner, but hadn't done the prep work on Sunday evening for bean soup or chili (namely soaking the beans overnight since I don't buy canned beans, only dried ones).  We'd just had potato soup last week, so that was out.  All my chicken soup carcasses from butchering day--what was left of each chicken after I 'parted' it out into wings, breasts, leg quarters--were still frozen solid because I hadn't planned ahead.  (Can I say that doing Super Bowl food always throws me off for a day or two?)  Likewise I had nothing thawed for turkey soup.  Pea soup didn't sound all that great.  Venison stew was out too, unless I wanted to try to quickly thaw a pound of stew meat in the microwave; which I didn't.  I have a thing about the microwave. . . food just doesn't come out of there the same as it does thawed/cooked by other methods.  I really have my suspicions as to the nutritional value of anything microwaved.

What I wanted was something that was both quick, and hearty.  Something flavorful.  Something I could throw together with what I had readily available.  I looked through my food stores and brainstormed.

Quick meat: a pound of venison burger.  It can go from rock-hard frozen to browned meat in thirty minutes.

Soup base that didn't require boiling beans, or bones, for an hour or more: tomato juice.

Flavors and filler: assorted veggies.

And that is how Burger Veggie Soup was born.  It was easy, quick (for a from-scratch soup), delicious and filling.

If you would like to try it for yourself, here is the recipe (I confess, all measurements are approximate, I didn't measure with anything other than my eyeballs.)

Burger Veggie Soup

1 lb venison burger
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp Lawry's
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 qt tomato juice
1 qt canned tomatoes
3 medium potatoes, diced
2 large carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 cup peas (frozen or fresh)
1/2 cup diced bell peppers
1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen or fresh)

In a 10" skillet, brown burger over medium heat with onion and garlic.  Add Lawry's and black pepper when burger is almost done.  Cook until browned.  Drain if desired or needed (usually I don't need to drain venison)

In soup pot (at least 6 qt), put browned meat mixture and all remaining ingredients.   Heat to boiling on high, then cover and lower heat.  Simmer at least 45 minutes, longer cooking time enhances flavor.

Serve with buttered bread, crackers, or croutons.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Oooooh, Sparkly!

This morning dawned way colder than expected.  Yesterday's forecast gave an overnight low in the single digits.  What I woke up to this morning was negative ten degrees!  Of course I didn't find this out until I was out the door and scraping frost off my windshield to go to the horse farm and get the morning feeding done.  I totally did not have my nose and mouth covered by my scarf, because I didn't even have my scarf on.  And I had left my fur hat in the house because, well, after last month's bitter cold mornings, single digit temps just seemed too warm for fur. So I had just worn my knitted hat.

While I was feeding, the sun rose in clear skies, and everything was crystalline in the bright light.

Beautiful. Sparkly.

I snapped some pictures once I returned home from feeding.  The feathery frost coating on the trees won't last long; the sun is warming things up pretty quickly.  Today's high temperature is supposed to be twenty degrees--so a thirty degree increase from sunrise to mid-day.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Stay Indoors, He Said

Today we had a moderate amount of snowfall.  This morning, when giving the day's forecast, the weatherman said that snow would be heavy at mid-day, and that people should just stay indoors.

DH and I looked at each other incredulously.  "Did he actually say 'stay indoors'?" DH asked with disbelief.  "Are people actually that afraid of snow?"

I shrugged, but confirmed that I, too, had heard the weatherman say that the outdoor conditions would be such that people should stay in their houses.

Needless to say, neither DH nor I heeded the weatherman's advice.  After a late breakfast (omelets with chorizo, ham, onions, peppers, mushrooms and cheese), he headed outside to see if he could get the 2-up snowmobile running.  Last week he'd gotten two new bogey wheels for it, but then discovered it was seized up from not being run at all last winter.  The snow picked up in intensity while DH was being snowmobile mechanic.

Within an hour, I heard the joyous sound of a snowmobile coming toward the house.  It lives!  The Bearcat lives!

DH on the Bearcat

Having the Bearcat back in working order meant that we could head out to the fence line to prune apple trees.  DH had tried last weekend to take the tractor over there, but it had nearly gotten stuck in the drifts in the field.  Time to switch from tractor transport to snowmobile.

And so we did.  Forget staying in the house just because a goodly amount of snow was falling from the sky (and, truth be told, driving in our faces if we faced the right direction).  There was stuff to be done outside.  Pruning trees is a mid to late winter activity, before the sap starts running again.

I bundled up in bibs, boots, coat, hat and gloves, and grabbed the loppers and the anvil pruners.  Then I hopped on the snowmobile behind DH, and he took me to the apple trees, going the long way.  From the garage, through the yard and the edge of the garden to what we call the South Road (which is just a path we keep mown from the garden to the woods), back into the woods, and out the other side, then down the north fence line stopping at each apple tree in turn.

View from the backseat of the Bearcat, heading into the woods on the South Road

We spent an hour or so trimming trees on the fenceline, me working the anvil pruners on the branches I could reach and DH using the loppers for the ones higher up.

Pruning a wild apple.

At one point, I lost my balance trying to move through the snowdrifts under the tree's canopy and did a slow-motion fall flat on my back.  Which made me laugh at the ridiculous feeling of knowing I'd tipped beyond the point of no return, yet it took so long to actually land on my back in the snow.  It was like I balanced on the edge of one heel for three or four seconds, knowing I was going over all the way, before actually completing my fall.  DH found it pretty funny too, especially when he stood offering his hand just out of my reach.

After pruning the trees on the north fenceline, we rode the snowmobile over to the orchard, where DH dropped me off to prune those fruit trees.  They are all much shorter than the ones in the fenceline, so I was able to prune them myself.

Once that task was complete, I went inside to work on dinner.  In light of the warm spell we're having--high near 30 degrees today!!--I had decided it would be a good day to grill the last package of hot dogs I'd discovered in the freezer.

Of course, with all the snow we've had since the year began, even being under the deck our grill had quite a bit of snow around it.

drifted in grill

 So I grabbed my knee boots before heading out to grill the hot dogs.

grillin' boots

I can't imagine how boring the day would have been had we obeyed the weatherman's warning and just stayed inside today.  Afterall, that snow is so unsafe.  And, cold.  How could anyone possibly be out in it for hours without causing harm and misery to themself?  How could they possibly have fun, or laugh, or accomplish anything?