Sunday, September 30, 2012

I wasn't always this way

This weekend my husband and I watched MasterChef.  The thing that I found most amusing and unusual was that a good portion of the aspiring chefs when asked what was their motivation to learn how to cook like they do answered "because I ate crap growing up and I'm tired of eating crap"

Same here.  Nothing against my Mom, I love her dearly, but as a child I was reared on fish sticks, hot dogs, burritos made from canned refried beans, and macaroni cheese from a box. 
As I became an adult my tastes began to change.  I found I could make pretty good food that was not from a kit (think Hamburger helper).  My culinary world began to open a bit wider when my husband and I attending a Food Network day long function filled with chefs cooking delicious meals with ingredients that I had never heard of.
This inspired me to learn more.  What else could I possibly make? 

As I grew older and more educated about food I decided to challenge myself constantly more. 

Now, about 2 1/2 years ago my world changed, my eyes were opened when I read Omnivore Dilemma by Michael Pollan. 
Can you believe that I did not know that Asparagus only grows during the spring season? That tomatoes are only supposed to be really going crazy come July.  That certain mushrooms grow during only certain times of the year.  That the beef I ate regularly was grown in horrible conditions, fed a food that they would NEVER eat on their own all the time and that it made them so sick that they had to be heavily medicated with antibiotics.
That the chicken I ate regularly was grown in tight, dirty conditions where they were never allowed to see the sunlight. 
That the eggs I ate came from chickens that lived in small cages barely bigger then themselves.  That the nutritional content of those eggs was far from superior.

That none of the food I ate was grown in a sustainable way. 

Fast forward to now.  I have a five year old son and my biggest fear is that he will grow up like I did.  Ignorant about how his food is grown/raised.  I want him to know that if you plant a tomato seed it will grow into a plant that will feed you during the summer months.  I want him to know how to both grow his food and cook it.  I want him to be connected to his food like I never was.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

30 Day Challenge ~ 27 Days In

We're nearing the end of the first 30 days of our Challenge that we set for ourselves and I have to say, I really miss, most of all, pretzels. 
Small, Snyders pretzels. 
That was my favorite snack food at work and for almost 30 days I have not had any of those.  I really miss those.  Instead my snacks have been the usual grape tomatoes and sliced cucumbers, apples and cheddar cheese and saltines and a bit of goat cheese that I managed to make last for almost the entire month.  Today I treated myself and made a big ziploc bag of air popped popcorn topped with melted coconut oil and a tad bit of butter and then I sprinkled Nutritional Yeast, some salt and paprika on top. The end result is very similar to movie theater popcorn but loads healthier.  Yeah, I was craving junk food today. 
My son has been thrilled lately as he's gotten as many apples as he has wanted (Actually he's only allowed two per day)
Still though, we've managed to stay on budget.  Here's the breakdown. 
As of today, September 27th 2012 we have spent $53.83 at the local grocery stores.  Pretty much all of our purchases that were included in this were of the non edible variety except for the raisins for my son and a bag of ridiculously expensive Kale at Walmart when we forgot to pick some up at the Farmers Market.
Since we were making our own dishwashing and laundry detergent we didn't spend on that at all which helped a lot.
At local businesses such as Brooms Bloom Dairy, Kilby Cream Dairy, Deer Creek Beef, Brads Produce, Lohrs Orchard and KCC All Natural Farms we spent a total of $432.52.
This means we spent a total all month of $486.35 all month long on groceries for a family of three.  Now, please keep in mind, like I've mentioned in previous posts, this time of year we are stocking up for the winter. Much like a traditional farm does, we go out and put away extras right now like Maple Syrup, Honey and green beans from Brads and extra apples and peaches from Lohrs.  After all, in about two months time none of those items will be available for sale at those locations as they will all be closed for the winter.
We will most likely try to follow the spirit of this challenge come October but I know there are a few things that we'd really like to purchase at the grocery store first. Like pretzels, Perrier and Ritter Sport Chocolate. 
Plus, during our challenge our supplies of flour, sugar, coffee beans and bisquik dwindled down to almost nothing.  I become very uncomfortable when I see my tupperware containers of basic supplies emptying out.  So, we'll most likely be shopping at BJ's where we have a new membership to replenish some of our supplies of those very basic items. 

The biggest thing I've learned from the past 27 days?  That it is all too easy to go into a grocery store and just start putting things into our grocery cart "because we need it" or "because it looks cool" or "because this looks really yummy!".  The past 27 days I think has taught both my husband and I that we need to practice saying "No" to ourselves more often.  I cannot tell you how many times we have walked into the grocery store with our list of 5 items and then came out an hour later, exhilarated from our shopping with $150 less in our checkbook. 
I challenge you, dear reader, to just take a step back and think about this yourself.  How often do you go to the grocery store, list in hand, only to walk out like my husband and I, with $150 less in our pockets and with a lot more groceries than what you planned on? 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Delectable Winter Squash Seed Giveaway!

My new favorite winter squash is the Black Futsu squash!  Really!  I think this almost qualifies as a new love of mine!
Let me just say this is the most delectable, the most tasty winter squash that so far I have yet to enjoy!
We purchased our seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds because it just looked interesting.  Here is their description.
Rare, black Japanese squash, the fruit is flattened, round and has heavy ribbing. Very unique and beautiful. The black fruit will turn a rich chestnut color in storage. Flesh is golden color and has the rich taste of hazelnuts. Fruits are 3-8 lbs. each and vines give huge yields; did excellent here. Popular with European market growers. Good insect resistance makes this a winner here! 
The flesh does indeed turn a wonderful, rich orange color and the flavor (at least to me) was more like chestnuts! Not really hazelnuts.  Also the flesh is not stringy like so many other winter squashes.  It is almost starchy like a sweet potato!  I can only imagine how this squash would taste, mashed with some butter and cream or half and half.
Sadly enough, we lost our original vine to Mosaic virus that was passed by Cucumber Beetles however I think we had a plant hiding among our other winter squash plants because we've found a new baby squash that I'm hoping and praying will actually fully grow and provide us with one more large squash for dinner one night coming up.
We recently had one of the squashes cut in half and then stuffed with wild rice along with some sauteed lentils, onion, garlic, and apples. It turned out to be a really filling dish that was almost more suited to something served at Thanksgiving.  I only wish I took a picture of the finished dish!

Now, you want to hear something really great??

These squash are extremely prolific seed producers so I will give out 5 seeds to the first 10 people who email me!  Upon contacting me, I will just need you to send to me a self addressed envelope with postage. One stamp should suffice, so your cost for possibly five Black Futsu squash plants is .90

Just please make sure to put "Black Futsu Seed Offer" in your subject line.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Time to make the uh wait, plant the garlic

This weekend we knew the time had come since the okra got knocked down during that storm last week.  It's time to plant the garlic.  Just remember, the best time to plant, by the way, is four to six weeks before your first predicted freeze.

For us in USDA determined zone 7A, that means we plant on or about mid September because our first predicted freeze is on or about October 29th.
Keep in mind, some gardeners do plant in the Spring but I have yet to try that.  In the future I might, but for now we stick to Autumn garlic planting.

You can go the the Farmers Almanac page for a handy dandy expected frost and freeze date chart.

This year we are going with four different varieties, two of which were the ones we used last year, Chesnok red and Persian star, the other two are completely new to us.
Those two I purchased from the farmers market and Brad's Produce.  The one from Brads is one of the hardneck varieties called German White.  The other is a soft neck variety that oh my goodness, I CANNOT BELIEVE I DIDN'T WRITE DOWN THE NAME!  I will be going to the farmers market next weekend and asking what variety is this again, so I'll add it then at the bottom of the page.
Now, just like tomatoes, peppers, and squash, garlic too has different flavors, aromas and textures.  Some can be stored much longer while others, not so long.  Some are spicier, some are tangy, some do better with cooking while others do best when used raw.
German White/Hardneck Variety
When selecting the variety you would like, remember to also keep in mind what area of the world you live in.  How cold does it get during the winter? Softneck varieties tend to not do as well in colder climates, while hardneck varieties can survive pretty cold temperatures during the winter. One bonus to hardneck varieties is you can get two harvests from one plant.  In the spring time (for us this occurs about late May) we harvest the scapes from the garlic plant which is the curly cue like bit at the top.  Harvesting the scapes encourages the plant to put its energies into producing good sized bulbs and not into flowering to produce seeds.   Scapes can then be used in anything that needs a mild garlic flavor.  Think green onion or chive mixed with garlic.  We love chopped garlic scapes in our scrambled eggs!

So, onto planting time.

First and foremost, the most important step.  Get yourself a good cup of coffee, espresso or tea.  It's important to relax, take your time and enjoy a good cup of something hot on an Autumn morning or afternoon!  I enjoyed a nice Espresso blend from Sweet Marias!

Next, early on you need to break apart all your bulbs of garlic and let them sit for a bit while you prepare the soil for planting.

When planting in the soil you want the pointy part pointing towards the sky, while the blunt edge to be pointing downwards.  Plant each bulb about 1 inch or so deep and cover with soil.  You need them to be about 4 to 8 inches apart to allow them plenty of room to grow.
Then cover with a good amount of straw or hay.  At this point, your work is done.  For at least the next eight months.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

30 Day Challenge ~ 20 Days In ~ Addiction to Consumerism Exposed!

Twenty Days Now. 
And believe it or not we don't feel all that deprived. 
We have spent $40.76 at the local grocery stores on groceries.  This includes things like parmesan cheese, some Kale that we forgot to pick up at the farmers market, peppermint patties and raisins.  Remember by the way, we're allowing ourselves a total of $60 per month at the local grocery store.
We have spent a total of $366.93 at local farms and the Bel Air Farmers Market.  Last week helped that number inflate quite a bit as we spent almost $60 on fresh picked apples at Lohrs Orchard.
So all told we have spent $407.69 this month on groceries. Now just remember however, some of these purchases have been towards items (like the apples) that will produce snacks, meals and desserts for the next year.  This time of the year we're squirreling away anything that can be preserved.  Whether it is dried into chips, canned in chutneys, salsas and sauces or frozen, we put a good portion of it away for the months when there are no fresh (locally grown) apples, peaches, and tomatoes.
Now, here's the interesting part.
Like I said, this time of year we are usually squirreling away whatever is in season as we know it is about to end.
However normally we would also spend (like I've said before) about $150 per week on groceries while we're doing this.  Most websites out there claim that the average family of three spends about $115 to $175 per week so we look like we're about average.  We typically do our weekly grocery trip on Saturdays. 
So if I were to do the math it would look like this.






So, so far we are actually BELOW what we would normally spend and then if you count in our normal purchases this time of year (like the apples) that would inflate that $450.00 even more. 

Twenty days in and my biggest realization?  We're addicted to grocery shopping.  There are actually a lot of articles all over the web all about the addiction of consumerism so it is most definitely not uncommon.   
I want you to close your eyes and think of walking through your local favorite grocery store, whichever one you prefer.  Imagine pushing your empty cart into the store, into the large aisles of all that food.  Look at the choices! Look at all the food! How do you feel?  If you are like me you find all these great things that would be useful at home.  And sometimes they are not useful or great but they just seemed like a good idea at the time.
How much of what you put into your shopping cart do you or your family REALLY need?  Do you really need those cookies? Those crackers? Those frozen TV dinners? That frozen pizza?
They are nice, yes. I do agree but if it came down to it and those were gone, would you die without those?  Would your family suffer nutritionally if you did NOT purchase those?
No, you and your family probably wouldn't. 
Life has become simpler for us during this challenge.  If we want cookies, well then we have to make them.
If we want fresh artisan bread? Well then I have to get some dough started for later. If we want a dessert? Well then I have to get out the canned apples, strawberries and rhubarb or cherries out and make a pie.
It really is amazing how simple it gets.  And here's the kicker.  We have to want the cookies, pudding or other treat bad enough because then it means we have to make said dessert/treat. This has led to weight loss in both Edward and me as we save the treats like homemade pudding and cookies for our son for school lunches.  It means we have less calorie packed, nutritionally inferior snacks to snack on. 

Stay tuned, because unbelievably, we might be continuing this all the way into late October.  This 30 day challenge might turn into 60 days.  Pretty cool if you ask me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'll take this as a sign that it's the end.

The end of the okra that is.

We have been deciding what to do with our okra plants that, this year, didn't really produce much.  This is mostly our fault for two different reasons.

  1. We planted them too late.
  2. We planted them too few.

Number 1 was a new lesson.  We didn't have this issue last year as we didn't plant garlic two years ago.
This year the garlic did not come out of the beds until late June to early July and we didn't start our okra plants in pots ahead of time, we direct sowed them, so they had a late start. Lesson learned.  Three months is not enough time to get the okra up and producing fully.
Next.  Number 2.  THIS one we knew about and we made the mistake of doing it, yet again.
This is one of those moments when I smack myself in the forehead and exclaim "DUHH!"
Next year, we will be planting one heck of a lot more of the okra so we can have it fresh, rather than dehydrated or frozen. 

So, now here is the issue.  Our garlic tends to go into the same bed as where the okra is currently.  We were not certain if we should pull up the okra and plant the garlic in there this weekend OR if we should just go ahead, plant the garlic among the current okra plants and see what happens.
I think the wild weather here on the East coast on Tuesday decided it for us.
The okra is being pulled up, out of the beds this weekend and the garlic will be inhabiting those raised beds now.

Last year Hurricane Irene did almost the same exact thing to our okra plants, only about a month earlier.  This time, obviously Mother Nature figured we needed a bit more prodding as we were stalling on the decision.

Monday, September 17, 2012

How about them apples?

We are now in my sons favorite time of year. It's apple season here in North Eastern Maryland.
This weekend we picked a total of 72.2 pounds of mixed varieties of apples from Lohr's Orchard which meant we were busy, and yet I cannot express the joy I felt as I pulled quart jar after quart jar of preserved APPLES and not tomatoes. 
Honestly, I am rather sick of tomatoes.  Really.  As much as I love tomatoes I have hit my threshold for canning and preserving them.  I know by October I will not want to see another fresh tomato for probably, at least two to three months. 
As of lately my days consist of going to my full time job during the day, then picking our son up from his before and after care for school, and then coming home to see what tomatoes need to be picked, what tomatoes have fallen down during the day, what tomatoes need to frozen (which by the way, includes starting some water to boil so I can peel them first), and then work on all the other necessary things that are needed to be done around the house.
You know?  The average Mom type of things. Cleaning, cooking, homework, taking the trash out, etc etc.

Banana Sour Cream & Cranberry Nut Bread
So this weekend we had several projects to work on.  I seriously had to use up the bananas that have been sitting in our freezer since this past spring so those went into a Banana Sour Cream and Cranberry Nut bread.  I do not think I've ever actually used Sour Cream in a single fruit nut bread.  This loaf turned out to be incredibly dense and moist.  It is most definitely a recipe I will be using in the future if our commissary has reduced bananas again.
Next, we had to start using up all the apples we picked so made Apple Rhubarb Chutney.  Unfortunately however, due to our current September challenge I had no dried cranberries left thanks to a little fruit monster that resides in my house but I did have some frozen cranberries left.  So I added some of those along with a handful of raisins that the fruit monster has yet to find.  We also changed a bit more on this as we do not like super sweet chutneys so we removed one cup of sugar and then also added some cloves and allspice because we wanted to kick it up just a notch. 
So far Edward and I both are pretty impressed with this recipe.  All the flavors of Autumn are present here.  Fresh apples, crisp, tart rhubarb, sugary raisins and cinnamon.  I cannot wait to use this on possibly some chicken thighs in the crockpot or maybe some pork chops on the grill come November. Then, since I was still waiting on the bananas to defrost, I cut up some more apples, some jalapenos, and bell peppers from the yard and got to work on the Curried Apple Chutney
This one is much more tangy, thanks to the vinegar.  It almost reminded me more of a pickle relish than of a sweet chutney.  I, as usual, also tweeked this one a bit and added some Garam Masala which imparted a nice smoky flavor which I think might help round out all the flavors.
That is the thing to remember about canning your own foods.  The flavors, first and foremost need time to mix so it's important to let your jars sit for at least two weeks before opening.  I usually do not start using my own preserved and canned foods for at least a month or two which means that by May, June and July we cook very little with canned tomatoes as we have none left by then. 

So next projects? Apple sauce, apple chips and fruit leather, all of which, thankfully are super easy and I know I can expect help from my little munchkin since these are his favorite snacks.
Apple chips are by far the easiest as all we do is peel each apple, use our Pampered Chef Peeler/Corer, toss all the now sliced apples into a lemon juice/water bath until we are ready to lay them onto the screens. 
24 hours later we have apple chips, ready for consumption. 
Apple sauce and fruit leather have one extra step as the cored and peeled apples go into our crockpot where they will cook down for at least the next 12 hours or so.
For the fruit leather, I simply take the now cooked down apples, flavor them however I want. No, wait, however MY SON wants and then we spread the puree onto the screen and within a day and a half we have fruit roll ups.
The flavors you can create are really endless.  I have even recently seen a recipe for pumpkin pie fruit leather that has been passed around on Facebook that sounds divine.
For apple sauce we just pour the puree into jars and process in a hot water bath for twenty minutes. Super easy.

Sour Cream Banana Cranberry Nut Bread

Time 1hour 15 minsServes 1 loaf

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 medium bananas, mashed
How to make it

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, mix well.
Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the butter mixture until smooth.
Finally, fold in the sour cream, cranberries, and bananas. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.
Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool loaf in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Apple Rhubarb Chutney from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving
4 C diced pealed cored apples, treated to prevent browning
4 C sugar
2 C rhubarb
1/2 C water
grated zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 C dried cranberries
1 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 Tsp ground nutmeg

In a large stainless steel sauce pan, combine apples, sugar, rhubarb, water and lemon zest and juice.  Bring to a hard boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.  Add cranberries, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Boil gently, stirring frequently, until thick enough to mound on a spoon.

Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles; wipe rim, center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to finger-tip tight.

Submerge in a hot water bath and process for 10 minutes (or your recommended altitude time).  Remove from canner, place on a wire rack, and allow seals to set and to cool for 12-24 hours.

Curried apple chutney recipe 
2 quarts chopped, peeled, cored apples (about 16 medium)
2 pounds raisins
4 cups brown sugar
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped sweet red pepper
3 tbsp mustard seed
2 tbsp ginger
3 tsp all spice
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp salt
2 hot red peppers, chopped
1 clove, garlic, minced
4 cups vinegar


Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Simmer until thick. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Really, I feel like that is what our garden has wanted to say to us as of recently. 
An Evening Visitor.   Papilio polyxenes.  Also called Black Swallowtail Butterfly.

I feel as if the plants have been conspiring with each other, talking to one another, late at night,  to try to plan some surprises for us.
Winter Crookneck. One of many female flowers
Marina di Chioggia
And last night we just walked in on them and caught them in the act.

Just when we thought that the garden was slowing down, the plants were slowing down in their production.  Well that is when they have decided that it is time to get moving big time with growth and push out so many fruits and vegetables that we do not know what to do with them.
Winter Squash gone wild!
As of earlier this week we thought that the Black Futsu, the Marina di Chioggia, the Winter Crookneck and even some of the tomatoes were almost done.  The squashes were all looking yellowed and dead with mosaic virus, the tomatoes were browning out with a few green, unripe fruits hanging heavily from their branches. 
When suddenly, last night we took a leisurely walk around the garden and discovered a bit new life!
Obviously we had a winter crookneck and a Marina di Chioggia plant that we did not know about in our tomato bed because they have taken over and grown OVER all the other dead vines, over the tomatoes and over the dead or dying cucumbers in an agressive display of opportunistic greed for the sunlight and water and fresh air.
As a result, it seems we will have a possible massively sized bumper crop come this October of even more crookneck and marina di chioggia squash.
The amusing thing about this?  As of about two weeks ago we were sighing in frustration as we watched our one and only Black Futsu succumb to Mosaic Virus.  Our (we thought one and only) Marina di Chioggia plant grew too heavy for its supports and pulled itself off the fence, almost killing it.  Our son, then we thought finished the vine off by pulling on the vine.  It seems it's trying its best to make a comeback.

The tomato plants in the first bed are still producing but now their production has slowed, thanks to the greedy squash but the tomatoes in the second bed have surged massively in their growth! You can almost hear them daily screaming "We're FREE!" as they keep making attempts to grow up and OVER the neighbors fence.  Sorry neighbor. We don't mean for our plant to be throwing tomatoes at you!

On top of their obvious attempts at escape they are all starting to produce massive sized amounts of massive sized tomatoes so each and every day we now have to run outside, come rain or shine, night or day, and pick the tomatoes that have fallen off the plants or pick the ones that are ripe and ready to be picked. 
Easter Egg hunt

Next bed is our swiss chard which is making a comeback from the cercospora that almost killed them completely.  This year, rather than pulling them up and throwing in the towel I picked off almost each and every infected branch and reminded my husband over and over and over again to NOT get these wet!
Cercospora occurs, by the way, when conditions are very moist and warm so it's very important to first, remove any parts that you see infected with this fungus type of infection.  Next you have to do your best to not get the area overly wet and try not to moisten the leaves.  This will just pass the infection from one leave to the next.
Now the next surprise.  The Sunchokes (aka Jerusalem Artichokes)!  As you can see in the picture they have really grown!  I am anxiously waiting for the flower buds to begin to appear so I can cut them off.  Like garlic and onions, it's best to cut off any signs of flowers so the plant will put its energy into producing tubers, not flowers. Still though, I'm tempted to allow one to flower because the flowers look so pretty in pictures!
Last bed in our series of raised beds has always been troublesome for one reason or another. First and foremost this bed is right next to the house so it gets the least sun, the coolest temperatures, the soil is by far the wettest in this area, and we usually have massive slug issues. 
Now, however, our slugs and grubs have vanished because there is a new sheriff aka PEST in town.  We have moles now!
Now while we are excited that our beer slug traps haven't caught anything therefore meaning that the slugs are gone the moles have left a mess in their wake.  We have repeatedly found onions, carrots, salsify and lettuce disturbed and left all over the place.  Obviously, in the moles mad rush to find food they've pushed any and all of the vegetables right out of the way.
Yet another negative.  Moles will continue to stay around until they have consumed all food around which means there goes our earthworms too.  As any gardener knows, earthworms are extremely beneficial little creatures.  They help aerate the soil, break down organic material, and introduce essential nutrients.
There are numerous natural ways to deter moles but I have yet to try any.  I will report on our attempts to discourage these unwelcome guests later as I try each one out.
In the meantime, next time I'm outside I'll video what the damage looks like.  After all, if a picture says a thousand words I can imagine a video would do even better.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

30 Day Challenge ~ 11 Days In

Well, we're almost halfway through the month of September and here's how it goes thus far.
We've spent $34.29 so far at traditional grocery stores like the commisary or Walmart.  Now here's the kicker.  We've spent $135.15 on local groceries.  That means at farms like Brad's Produce, orchards like Lohrs Orchard and the farmers market at Bel Air.
This past weekend we visited the farmers market because we were starting to run low on things like kale, lettuce, ice cream and milk.
We also picked up one half chicken and one full roasting chicken at KCC Natural Farms.  Let me just say, this chicken was so delicious!  There was a big difference between this chicken and the traditional ones we normally buy.  The breast meat in this chicken was much, much smaller and the meat over all resembled more of dark meat than white meat.  The taste was richer and almost gamey and while the chicken was all over leaner, the drippings that came off in the rotisserie were extremely rich and flavorful.
Later Saturday night I started chicken broth with the carcass and it made, in my opinion, one of the best batches of chicken broth I've ever made.  The only thing I added to the broth was a few spare bits of green onion tops and a bit of salt. 
Now, many people might say "Well all the food at the farmers market is so expensive! I can't afford that!" and yet, look where we are now.
11 days in and we've spent $169.44 and that is for a family of three.  During a normal month the amount we would've spent on groceries would be twice what we've spent now with each grocery shopping spree during the weekend running up to $150 each time.
So, you do the math.
We predict that this next week we won't be spending much at all as our chest freezer is stocked to almost full capacity with meat, frozen blanched vegetables from the garden or the farm nearby and our pantry shelves are bursting with fresh preserved fruits, jams, jellies and salsas.  Plus, I have to admit, I need some down time to just catch up on the basics in the house!

This past weekend we had one bunch of seconds peaches to preserve, one massive sized box of seconds tomatoes to work on as well as tomatoes from our own yard, and of course the hot peppers we received as a gift from our next door neighbor. 
The peaches I simply peeled using a hot water bath, then sliced them up and threw them in the dehydrator.  It filled the house with the most lovely scent.  Who needs potpourri when you have peaches drying!
The tomatoes went into several different recipes.  Some just spaghetti sauce, some marinara sauce, some italian style diced tomatoes and some went into a new recipe that I would have never thought to make. Rotel!

We usually use the store bought rotel quite a bit in chili as there is nothing more comforting and warming than a bowl full of chili and rice with a slice of hot buttered cornbread on the side in mid winter.  YUM!
I found the recipe here at Homesteadroots for the Rotel.

This is really delicious! I cannot wait to see how it tastes after it has rested for a bit. 
Next we used up some of our hot peppers from our next door neighbor in a pepper sauce from the Chef Keith Snow at Harvest Eating.
I cannot believe we've never made this before!
Very yummy but very hot!  Whew! I cannot wait to pass some of these out as gifts as I'm sure they will be enjoyed!
Next week, we will be using up a bit more of our hot peppers and possibly some apples from U Pick at Lohrs Orchard in a Curried Apple Chutney.  I found the recipe at Creating Nirvana that I cannot wait to try out!
You know, that is one bonus to making your own jellies, jams, chutneys and salsas.  You can make jars of condiments and such that you would never see in the grocery store!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

30 Day Challenge~5 Days In

Five days into our challenge now and my son is already crying because there are no snacks in the house.  It didn't help that we had a three day weekend which we spent camping and we brought most of our fresh apples and peaches.  We do have two peaches left, one of which is getting kind of mushy.  That one will be turned into dried peach slices tonight in our dehydrator. 
We have an Excalibur Dehydrator and this time of year it goes almost non stop.  We dry everything from corn to carrots, onions to lima beans.  Anything we can not eat up in a few days gets dried, canned or frozen.
This means every Thursday we go through what we're getting from our share at Brads Produce and seperate it into piles.  There is the pile that goes into the fridge for consumption within the next few days and then there is the pile that needs to be preserved.  Usually a good share of our corn goes into the preserve pile, along with tomatoes, lima beans, and edamame.  The fruit we keep out so we can all snack on it.
This week I hope to run by Lohrs Orchard and pick up some extra peaches to dry.  Dried peaches are a super yummy snack that tends to satisfy all of our needs for something sweet.
Soon we'll be fully into Apple season, my sons favorite. 
Apples are the one fruit we get mass quantities of since they are so versatile.  We make apple sauce, apple butter, dried apples, fruit leather (aka fruit roll ups!), apple pie filling, and of course we eat loads and loads of them during that time.  This year I have plans to also make an apple chutney which is used in BBQ and braising. 
That is the whole idea when you are buying in season.  You are buying when its cheap and super fresh, buying a lot of it, and preserve whatever you can or whatever you have the room for.  Come winter you are eating good food, grown locally, picked when it was at its peak of freshness, and preserved within just a few days.  And you are also saving a bit of money as well since now you're not shopping for those foods come winter when the price goes up.

Tonight I also have Kale chips to make.  I really love kale chips. They tend to satisfy that need for salty and crunchy.  Think potato chips but healthier.  Still though, I can imagine my son is still going to be complaining until tomorrow.  He does not like kale chips and my husband is not really fond of them either.  This time I'm going to try two batches.  One with just sea salt and the other cheesey kale chips using Nutritional Yeast.  I can imagine the next week or so becoming tougher.  We're running out of our fast, prepackaged foods like granola bars, cookies, biscotti and chocolate.  I guess it means this weekend I need to do some baking to satisfy that craving we'll all be getting as we get further weaned off the grocery store food.
Who knew we were so addicted to that stuff!

Kale Chips

These are super easy.  Any time you have extra kale sitting around you can do this.  In the past I've purchased kale at the grocery store or even a bagful at Brads Produce and I almost never use the entire bit in soups or what not so instead I just make kale chips!  There is almost no reason to let your extra kale go to waste.  Also, kale is usually super cheap for a really big bag so this can make a super delicious and very nutritious snack!  Since this is salty and crunchy it can be used to satisfy any "potato chip" cravings one might have. I normally just make sea salt kale chips but this time I'm trying Cheese kale chips since I have nutritional yeast on hand. 
Cheesy Kale Chips

  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 1 tbsp olive oil spray OR regular
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tear kale into bite sized pieces, wash, shake dry and place in a bowl.
  3. Spray kale with olive oil OR use a measured 1 tbsp and just mix to coat all the kale.
  4. Place kale on baking sheet and sprinkle with nutritional yeast and lightly dust with sea salt.
  5. Place in oven and bake 4-5 minutes, turn over and bake for another 4-5 minutes or until crispy. Be careful, it can burn quickly if you don’t keep an eye on it!
  6. Remove from oven when crispy. Enjoy!

Monday, September 3, 2012

30 Day Challenge ~ 3 Days in

This weekend was a bit hard to gauge how we're feeling.  We went camping this weekend and while we had a strict "No buying bread, pasta, milk, cheese, etc" rule we did splurge and buy a bag or two of M&M's or Amish Coconut Stacks.
I told Edward these expenditures could be considered slightly different since we were "officially" on vacation.  Normally I would classify all of this expenses under vacation/camping.  Not under groceries so....   Regardless, today we're home, and now we're fully into the idea of this.
It must have hit Edward today because he remarked that $30 every two weeks is going to go fast when I reminded him we need dish washing soap for the dishwasher.
Oddly enough, last week when I wrote about some of the things we that would be on our list laundry detergent was one of them.
Next thing you know, last week, I suddenly find on several blogs other writers talking about homemade laundry detergent and how easy and inexpensive it is.  If you are interested the recipe we created after reading many different versions is here.
So, yet again, I've found a way to trim how much we'll be spending at the grocery store.
Oh and in my search for homemade laundry detergent I also discovered recipes out there for dish washing detergent and the best part of all of this?
It uses almost all of the same ingredients!  Recipe is here.
How cool is that?
So today we end day 3 having spent $12.55 on Kosher salt, 2 containers of chicken broth and shredded parmesan cheese that was needed for the pesto I plan on making and freezing.
I could have kicked myself for not recently buying a whole chicken and making broth out of it.  I hate spending on chicken broth when I can do it myself.
Oh, and by the way a recap on our "rules"

  1. It has to come from our yard
  2. If not from our yard, then the dairy, butcher shop, farm, orchard or the Bel Air Farmers Market.  There is also a new Amish Farmers Market  in Aberdeen, MD we can visit on Friday afternoons.  
  3. We are allowed to spend however much we want at those locations.  
  4. We are allowed only $30 every other week at the local grocery store.
  5. This challenge starts September 1st.

DIY Powdered Dishwashing Detergent

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that you can make your own dishwashing detergent and if you are making your own liquid laundry detergent then you have almost all the ingredients on hand anyways.  Once again, killing the two birds with one stone.

Where I had really no definitive recipe towards the liquid laundry detergent I did use one almost exclusively for the dishwashing detergent.  You can find the recipe here at  I did make one extra adjustment, just to see if it changed anything. I had some Dr. Brommers Peppermint Pure Castile Soap from one of my Wegmans shopping trips so I added about a tablespoon to the powder and mixed it in thoroughly.  While the powder now smells nice and minty, it did not do anything to the finished product.  The dishes just smell clean but not minty.   Lesson learned.  It does not make any difference if I add scent to the powder.  It doesn't affect the finished product. (Finished product = Clean Dishes)
Now I must say, other than laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent is one of our other big expenses. Especially this time of year, when we're canning, preserving, drying, freezing and what not.
We tend to run our dishwasher at least 7 to 10 times a week during the summer so we go through a LOT of dishwashing detergent.  It most definitely does not help that we have a super small dishwasher in this military house!

So if you are interested here is the recipe.

DIY Homemade Dishwashing Detergent

1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup kosher salt

Now, one other note.  I used the citric acid I had on hand for canning, so this current batch probably cost a bit more.
In the future I will be going with Now Foods Citric Acid on

Now, like I did in the DIY Liquid Laundry Detergent.  Here's the Economics of this.

Borax (76oz box) $3.38 (Used 8oz or 1 cup.  This means we will get approximately 9.5 batches.  Equals .42¢ per batch)
Washing Soda(55 oz) $3.24 (Used 8oz or 1 cup. This means we will get approximately 6.87 batches. Equals .40¢ per batch)
Citric Acid (7.5 oz) 4.99 (Used 4 oz or 1/2 cup.  This means we will get almost two batches of this.  Equals approximately 2.49 per batch)
Kosher Salt (48 oz) 1.99 (Used 4 oz or 1/2 cup.   This means we will get approximately 12 batches from this.  Equals .16 per batch)
Castile Soap (added this time only, will never add again as it is a waste, so I'm not going to throw the number in here.  Lets keep this simple, shall we?)

Each batch will cost $3.47 to make.  We use approximately a tablespoon of detergent normally so this will last about 48 loads.
Total cost of each load will be .07

We used to use Seventh Generation Dishwasher Pacs.  Those cost us at the grocery store $4.80.  That was if we did not have a coupon which are pretty rare to find around here.
Total cost of each load was .22

.07 vs .22

Yet again, Wow!

I can see this cost savings adding up!  No more buying expensive dishwashing detergent for me!  Also, just a FYI, this really did not take up much time.  Maybe around 15 minutes total and that was spent measuring out each ingredient and then simply mixing them.  What probably added an extra 5 minutes was the time spent incorporating the castile soap fully into the dry powder.  Never again will I do that!

DIY Homemade Laundry Detergent

Okay, I normally like to give credit to certain bloggers or websites out there when I use their recipe however in this case my husband and I, once deciding to do this, read about fifteen different ones and took what we wanted or needed from each one.
So here's the recipe.

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent
1 Fels Naptha bar, grated
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda (DO NOT USE BAKING SODA.  It's different from what you need or want)
2 gallons of water

Grate fels naptha bar either with a cheese grater or with a food processor.  I used a food processor because I was in a hurry and my right foot that I twisted recently was bothering me like crazy.
Empty the grated bar into 8 cups of water into a large pan.  Heat and allow the soap to fully disintegrate.
Next, remove from heat and add 1 cup Borax and 1 cup Washing soda, stirring each time to fully incorporate all ingredients.
Next just add remaining water. (for the mathematically challenged like myself this equals 24 more cups)
Now add any essential oils you would like.  I had Sweet Orange on hand so I used that.  Feel free to experiment.  Like I said, I noticed lots of differing opinions on this.
Let sit in a barrel for 24 hours.  I have heard the soap may be kind of running or gel like once it's done.
I have yet to actually do a wash with this but I cannot wait to see how it turns out.
I'll add more to this post later after I have completed my first wash with this.
My son thought this was a pretty cool project so he had to "help"

Now here's the economics.

We purchased all our ingredients for this from Walmart.  It may vary where you are at.

Fels Naptha bar 97¢  (used the entire bit)
Borax (76oz box) $3.38 (Used 8oz or 1 cup.  This means we will get approximately 9.5 batches.  Equals .42¢ per batch)
Washing Soda(55 oz) $3.24 (Used 8oz or 1 cup. This means we will get approximately 6.87 batches. Equals .40¢ per batch)
Optional essential oil $2.00 (I'm not adding this into the calculations because it is OPTIONAL)
Total cost: $1.79 to make each batch
Total cost per load of laundry: .02¢

This all makes around about 33 cups or so of detergent.  We plan on using about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup of detergent per load of wash so this equals to approximately 60 loads, give or take.

Now let me just compare this to Seventh Generation which is the usual detergent we use.
Usual cost is about 7.99 for 50 oz.  If we use half a cup of this for each wash that will equal .63¢ for each load.
Wow.  Big difference.  .02¢ vs .63¢

Like I said earlier, I'll post my final thoughts on this later on this week as to the "efficiency" of this.
This actually took my husband, myself and I about 15 minutes total hands on time so it's not very time invasive.
So far I'm voting for the homemade laundry detergent.

One thing I completely forgot to mention while filming this!  I added an additional 4 cups of hot water as the detergent was still too thick.  Almost like a super thick pudding!
So add four cups to our batch total.

It's now been almost two weeks of doing laundry with this detergent and our clothes smell just as fresh, they look just as clean however I have decided I to add just a bit more sweet orange essential oil to future batches.  The detergent itself smells lovely, fresh, vibrant but the finished product (the clean laundry) keeps very little of the smell.  I want to see if I add maybe a half a teaspoon more, if that maybe makes any difference. 

Okay, we are now about 17 days from when we made this.  This DIY laundry detergent ROCKS!  We are amazed by the effectiveness of this!  Case in point. Recently we had switched towels out in our master bathroom as the others were just thrown into the wash. The towels that were newly hung were from before we were using our own detergent and, I hate to say this. They stunk.  I do not know if they were put away when they were still damp or what but they just smelled old, moldy, and dusty. 
We switched them out almost immediately upon noticing the difference and lo and behold....they came out of the wash smelling awesome.  Wow! WHY OH WHY DID I NEVER DO THIS BEFORE?????

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