Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Family day out!

Since I'm heading back to Minnesota this weekend I thought we needed a family fun day out. About 45 minutes from our home is a water park literally in the middle of nowhere, Splashway Water Park. They have BOGO on Tuesdays so we packed our cooler with goodies, slathered on the sunscreen, and headed out for a really great day together:

We're all sunburned and exhausted but we had a blast!
I even promised the little ones we'd go back when mommy gets back from work in Minnesota!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Preserving your harvest

When you've eaten all the tomatoes and zucchini you can stomach and your neighbors run at the site of you because they don't want anymore either, what's a girl to do?

It is simply too hot here to can foods and I don't trust the process completely either! If it can't be lactofermented then I like to use the dehydrator and dry our vegetable harvests. Drying food has been around for centuries and it is a very convenient and healthy way to preserve food. Add your dried veggies to soups and casseroles for a nutritional boost, or just snack on them like veggie chips!
Why pay $$$ for those fancy sun dried tomatoes when you can make them yourself for next to nothing?

Slice your ripe tomatoes very thinly on a mandolin or food processor and add garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt & pepper, and a dash of olive oil. Mix gently with your hands until the slices are coated.

Place slices on your dehydrator and leave for about 12 hours. If you don't have a dehydrator you can place slices on a parchment linned baking sheet and put in a 150 degree oven overnight. Be prepared...your house is going to smell AMAZING!

To store you can put them in a jar covered with olive oil or simply seal in a ziplock baggie! They add such great flavor to salads, pasta dishes, and homemade pizza.

Or even just straight out of the jar!

For more gardening ideas check out:
An Oregon Cottage
Tuesday Garden Party

Monday, June 28, 2010

The student becomes the master...

Oh, young Padiwan, I have taught you everything I know.
You are now ready to venture out and make salsa on your own.

Your knife skills are excellent.

Your sense of taste and balance of seasonings are outstanding.

Your dipping technique is like no other.

And you leave mayhem, chaos, and disaster in your wake...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Doug!

Last Thursday Doug turned another year older!
I asked and asked if he wanted to do something special for his birthday but all he wanted was a quiet day at home. He ended up cooking his own dinner (with the smoker he got for Father's Day) which was really delicious! And his parents came over for the evening as well. Mrs. C brought a wonderful spice cake that was devoured VERY quickly!

Happy Birthday to my Doug E. Poo!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Meatless Fridays

I have been reading Ina Garten's book, 'Back to Basics'. It's a wonderful book of simple meals with simple ingredients and lots of flavor. I like to grow basil but am often amiss at what to do with it, so I thought I'd make a big batch of Ina's pesto sauce to use over pasta and on homemade pizza Margarhita. The sauce came out very good, but there was a small little husband almost went into anaphylactic shock!

We had dinner and then Doug went out for his nightly walk. When he came home he was red as a beet and complaining that his arms and hands were "on fire!" I shuffled him off to the shower and when he took off his shirt I saw that he was covered in huge red welts! Two benadryl and a cool shower later he is still as red as a cooked lobster and bumpy and itchy from head to toe...and his eyes had begun to swell! The only thing that it could have been was the pesto sauce we had for dinner. We still don't know for sure if it was the basil or the walnuts (I'm thinking it was the nuts!)
But we won't be having this meal again....EVER!

But that doesn't mean that your family can't enjoy it!
It was really good, even the kids ate it up!

This week's Meatless Friday meal is:

Ina Garten's Homemade Pesto

1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup pignolis
(pine nuts are too expensive on our budget so I doubled the walnuts and toasted them first)

3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves) ~ (I only used 6!)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Place the walnuts, pignolis, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 30 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Serve, or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gardening on the cheap!

Most garden departments have a "clearance rack" of dying plants. Most of the time the plants are out of season or diseased, but every once in a while you can score a GREAT bargain!

I checked out the Walmart garden center's clearance plants (usually tucked waaay in the back corner) and found some Knock Out Roses marked half off and some canna tubers for 75% off!

These plants are a REAL bargain because they grow year round here in Texas. Knock Out Roses are virtually disease free and they're pretty hard to kill (not temperamental at all like traditional roses!) and after a good pruning they'll bloom back beautifully. Cannas grow anywhere that is hot and sunny and they are beautiful tropical plants. They are perennial and will grow back and multiply year after year. After a good 12 hour soak, these tubers will be ready to plant.

Look for plants that are perennial or grow year round in your area. Most of the time you can nurse these sicklings back to health. Over watering, not enough sunlight, or simply being "pot bound" are reasons these plants get tossed aside. Don't waste time with annuals, they don't bloom year after year and you'll be wasting your money.
So check out the clearance rack next time you visit your local nursery, you might find some real treasures in the rough!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My *almost* $50 meal plan!

I usually love a good challenge and I'm always looking for ways to cut our household budget. I was toying with the idea of creating a $50 meal plan for our family of six and decided just to go for it one day. I didn't meet my goal (spent $68.29) and here's what I learned:

1. You CAN feed a family of six for 50 bucks a week if you need to.
2. You MUST plan! I did not consult our local grocer's sale papers and that was a big mistake. I thought I could just plan out inexpensive dinners and that would be it, it's not the way to go. You have to see what's on sale and plan around that.
3. This plan includes only food for the week. No household or toiletry items were on my shopping list.
4. I couldn't have done as well as I did without my garden supplementing my meal plan. If you don't have a garden or belong to a CSA, you can still make substitutions to this plan for about $10.

Here's the meal plan:

Homemade muffins
Generic Cheerios
Hard boiled eggs and toast
Homemade yogurt and granola
Breakfast plan: I bought the super huge old fashioned oats to eat during the week. I will also use it in our muffins and combine it with pantry items to make granola (even just the toasted oats and honey would be delicious!) I threw in prepared cereal because some mornings there is just no time for a "homemade" breakfast.
Breakfast prep: Make LARGE batch of muffins and freeze. Will use for breakfasts and snacks. Make homemade yogurt overnight and store in fridge. Cook granola when making the muffins and store in airtight container.

PB & J with fruit
Grilled cheese with fruit
Refried bean burritos
Chicken salad with fruit
Quesadillas with cucumber salad
Lunch plan: Doug and the kids have a thing with leftovers, they just won't eat them! But I've found ways to use the leftovers to fool them! I plan on cooking a large pot of pinto beans on taco night. The next day I'll mash them and season them to eat as burritos. Roasted chicken leftovers will become chicken salad and various veggies will go into quesadillas.
Lunch prep: Make a large batch of tortillas and store in fridge. Cook pinto beans in crock pot. Can also roast chickens ahead of time. Reserve half of one chicken for chicken salad and mix with mayo and whatever fruit you have: apple chunks, red grapes, shredded carrot, walnuts,and a little curry powder from the pantry!

Homemade yogurt and granola (yogurt can be flavored with honey or maple syrup from the pantry)
Homemade bread and honey
Zucchini bread
Cucumbers from the garden and dip

Spaghetti with pesto sauce
Tacos and pinto beans (possibly with pico de gallo if I have any tomatoes from the garden)
Roasted chicken with squash and zucchini from the garden
Easy quiche (sub swiss chard for broccoli and no meat) and cucumber salad
Spaghetti squash with tomato sauce and artisan bread
Homemade Pizza Margerhita
Mac & cheese

Dinner plan and prep:
Pesto sauce will substitute walnuts instead of the pricey pine nuts. Will use half the bag of walnuts in our granola and chicken salad. Basil from the garden. If you don't have fresh basil, you can substitute frozen chopped spinach for less than a dollar!

Will cook a large pot of pinto beans to use in burritos and quesadillas for lunches.

Roasted chicken leftovers will go into chicken salad for lunch the next day. You can sub. garden veggies for a salad. Lettuce is pretty inexpensive or you could roast a bag of baby carrots for less than two dollars.

My "easy quiche" only has four eggs so the rest will be used hardboiled for breakfast and snacks. We can get free range eggs around here at a steal for $2.50 a dozen! Frozen chopped spinach in the recipe can be substituted for chard and a fruit salad of banana/red grape/peach can be served for under four dollars.

We have lots of spaghetti squash from the garden but you can get them at the market for about two-three dollars. Real pasta is even less, but I already have two pasta dishes this week! You should really try spaghetti squash if you haven't. A simple dressing of butter and parmesean cheese is all you need! Will make a batch of artisan bread early in the week and pull off what I need to bake as we go. The kids love snacking on fresh bread from the oven (and I usually add ground flax and wheat germ to the mix to make it more nutritional!)

Use artisan dough for your pizza crust and spread on leftover pesto sauce and thinly sliced tomato for a wonderful pizza Margerhita!

Mac and cheese is very inexpensive to make and I usually make a double batch for the freezer. You could use the second batch as a lunch meal for one of your days.

You'll note that nothing here is processed except the breakfast cereal. That's one of the keys in doing this cheaply ~ MAKE IT YOURSELF! You control the ingredients which benefits your health and your pocketbook!
We drink only water. Sweet tea is my vice, thankfully it's cheap or I can grow my own. We'll drink it for dinner but otherwise we'll stick to water. It flushes out toxins, is good for your body, and you're not pumping your family full of HFCS!
Go meatless! By cutting out meat for one to three meals a week you'll substantially cut your budget!
Buy generic/store brands to save money.

I didn't meet my goal of $50 this time but I plan to keep at this until I do! I'll plan my meals around what is on sale and keep the pantry stocked of necessary items.
I'm attaching my plan and shopping list in case anyone is interested in trying this out.
Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Make your own tea

I'm a big tea drinker!
Hot in the winter and iced in the summer. I used to go to Chinatown to buy specialty teas (at GREAT prices!) but the commute into Houston is a long one, especially with the kids in tow. This summer I decided I'd grow my own tea.
I had no idea it would be so simple!

I started seeds of chamomile, bee balm, and lemon balm right along with my tomatoes and peppers this year. A quick snip and I have a basket full of the most amazing smelling herbs to go into my own brand of specialty tea!

You don't necessarily have to dry your teas, but I like to make a big batch to have on hand. It makes it easier to have dried chamomile all ready to be used instead of tip-toeing out to the garden at 10pm to snip some for a cup before bedtime!
If you don't have a dehydrator, you can place the herbs on a sheet of parchment and place in your oven on 150 degrees until dried. You can even bind the stems with string or a rubber band and hang to dry in your garage or laundry room!

Nothing wrong with using fresh herbs either!
Crushed lemon balm tastes incredible in a quart of sun tea!

To use your dried teas, place a tablespoon in a tea ball and pour almost boiling water into your cup to steep. Do not steep any longer than three minutes (or your tea might get bitter!). Add honey or stevia to sweeten and ENJOY!

All natural.
Pure comfort!

Monday, June 21, 2010

You be the judge...

Is she a pillow?A headrest?
Or the best freakin' dog EVER!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Meatless Fridays

My kids love anything stuffed into a pita pocket. I occasionally make our own pita bread, check out my tutorial HERE. When I make them, I make a LOT and freeze them. They are super easy to warm up in the toaster.
In an attempt to use the oven less this summer, I thought I'd use this very versatile recipe to fill our pita with. By using lots of healthy "fillers" I can fool my kids into eating better!
Serve with a fruit salad for the perfect summer dinner.
This week's Meatless Friday meal is:

Tuna Salad Stuffed Pita

2 (6 ounce) cans tuna, drained and flaked
1 medium apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins, dried cranberries, or fresh grapes cut in half
1/2 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/3 cup chopped pecans, almonds, or walnuts
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
(Optional: green onion, chopped celery, celery seed, shredded carrot, green peas, curry powder, or cucumber)

You know, for the majority of my life I was a tuna salad purist. Just tuna, mayo, relish and egg ~ THAT'S IT! But in my old age I've really come to enjoy the complex flavors of adding everything under the sun to my tuna salad!
Give it a try!

Combine ingredients in a large bowl and chill for half an hour to let the flavors marry. Stuff pita pockets with lettuce leaf, tomato, and fill with tuna salad.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Taking time to smell the roses...

The roses I planted in my 'Angel Baby' garden are now in full bloom!

Take time to enjoy the little things,
for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What four days of neglect gets you.....

I was a little concerned about my garden while I was working in Minnesota. The assignment was only four days and I figured Doug and the boys could handle picking a few ripe veggies, right?
Doug emailed me and told me he picked the most beautifully ripe bowl FULL of green beans. He was so proud of himself (he usually stays out of my garden!) and couldn't wait to show me his superb gardening skills.

I came home to this:
Beautiful, isn't it?

The problem is that those aren't green beans.
They are immature black eyed peas that are supposed to look like this:

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry!

This is what he missed:

I suppose I should be happy the house was clean and the kids were still alive!

Just kidding! Doug did an excellent job of taking care of things while I was gone. Personally, I could NOT have made it through my first travel assignment without his love, support, and prayers. It was only four days, but I've never been away from my Doug or our boys that long. My Doug E. Poo made it easier to do what I needed to do to help take care of our family.

He's the BEST...even if he does have a brown thumb!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


First the EPIC FAIL:

My very first tomato of the season, the one I've been nurturing and coddling for weeks was eaten by the birds!

*^%^*((^%!! ungrateful birds! I have three bird feeders FULL of seeds plus I put out all our old fruit for them. Not to mention that they snack from the compost pile on watermelon just wasn't enough for them, they had to go and violate my tomatoes. We'll see who gets the last laugh, stay tuned!

Now on to my EPIC WIN:
Growing everything I need to make
lactofermented pickles!

You should know by now that I get very excited over such things!
I finally have enough cucumbers and my dill is growing out of control, so what else can you do but to make pickles? But not just ordinary pickles,
The ingredients are simple: distilled water, cukes, sea salt, and time.
That's it!
So what's so different about lactofermented pickles? They are probiotic, which means they are full of lacto-bacilli bacteria. This bacteria, when ingested, colonizes your gut. It protects you against illness (since your digestive system is practically the basis for your whole immune system!). It can even protect you against certain cancers.
It's an ancient way to preserve food and it keeps the nutrients of the food intact. Traditional pickling and canning destroy all the beneficial bacteria and nutrients in food. Is it still edible and tasty, sure, but the life of the food is gone.

So how is it done, you ask? Simple, just make a brine that is strong enough kill the bad bacteria associated with purification but promote the growth of lacto-bacilli.
In a one quart glass jar, fill halfway with distilled water. It must be distilled because the chlorine in tap water will kill all the good bugs. Next, pour in one tablespoon of sea salt and dissolve. Again, must be sea salt, iodine kills the good stuff. For pickles (or any other vegetable you wish to pickle - green beans, okra, garlic, etc...) slice and put in the brine. You must use cukes that are homegrown or purchased from the farmer's market. Store bought cukes are coated with a wax and will not lactoferment. From there, it's up to you! I like to season my pickles with fresh dill from the garden, one smashed garlic clove, and sometimes a little jalapeno or cayenne pepper!
Now use a wooden spoon and submerge the vegetables underneath the brine. At this point in the process, air is your enemy! You can even weight it down with a glass or heavy spoon.
The vegetables MUST remain underneath the brine to ferment properly.
Now just leave it on your counter anywhere from 5-10 days.
Nature will do it's thing!

Length of fermentation depends on temerature of the storage area. I start taste testing pickles around day 5. When I get the right taste, the pickles get sealed and put in the fridge. We've eaten pickles a year after processing with this method and they taste wonderful!
Sometimes a little scum forms on the top of the liquid ~ not to worry! Just skim it off and keep on with the process.

I have to say that I am quite certain that eating lactofermented vegetables in addition to drinking elderberry tincture kept us illness FREE this past winter. It's when we ran out of the stuff that we started getting sick!

So eat your lactofermented veggies and make some lactofermented salsa.....I'd make some salsa, but all the birds ate my tomatoes! :-(

To learn more about the process check out these very informative links: