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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Thrift store finds

This weekend we went thrift store shopping.  With all the weight I've lost (not sure if it's from our Real food diet, breastfeeding, or a combination of both), I needed some work clothes that I wasn't swimming in.  Of course, with 50% off thrift store prices, we bought more than just some dress pants and tops.  Jaimie found a spring form pan for only a couple dollars.  Yes, we have one, but he says that a home with one spring form pan needs another.  I told him that if he spent $2 on something we already owned, we would at least need to welcome the new pan into our home by using it, so he made a cheesecake. 

We also found camping dishes.  Camping dishes you say?  Why a separate set of dishes for camping?  The reason is simple.  We camp - a lot.  It's fun, relatively inexpensive, and we go to the same events every year so that we can visit with the friends we meet there.  The dish set that we bought was a set of 12 bowls, 12 plates, 12 forks/knives/spoons, a serving platter, a serving bowl, a chip & dip tray, and a large bin that it goes in that we'll use for a washing bin.  All of that for a grand total of $12.49.  The camping dishes will fit well in the storage area of our pop-up camper and we won't have to think about packing them.  (This is our first year with our camper so I'll be packing it with what I think we'll need and then we'll reassess from there, though we're seasoned tent campers). 

Jaimie is always bugging me about covering my head.  Despite my pale complexion, with my very thick head of hair, I don't feel that sunburn on my scalp is an issue (except for the one time in the Bahamas when I totally forgot to put sunblock between my many cornrow braids so that my scalp got burned between the braids - ouch).  Of course, I do realize that a hat will also protect the face and neck to some extent, and I do make the kiddos wear them outside most of the time, especially because their hair is so thin.  My MIL was looking at hats and found a bright pink hat that had great personality, so of course Jaimie thought that I should look at the hats as well.  Unlike our fashionable girls, I am not a hat person.  I just don't generally find anything that is appealing to me.  However, I did find a red hat (with the original tag still on it!) that I actually like. 

So, all in all, it was a pretty successful time thrifting.  Though we are purging from our home (and having our own rummage sale in a couple of weeks during our town's annual festival), I still have a few things I'll be keeping my eye out for when we inevitably go thrift store shopping (or rummage sale shopping) again.  

Chocolate cake... mmmmmm.......

We've had a couple of birthdays around here.  Our eldest turned 3, Jaimie's birthday was today (though we had a party on Sunday) and our youngest will be turning 1.  For our 3-year-old's birthday, I made this deliciously moist chocolate cake.  I'm pretty sure that it was one of the best tasting cakes I've ever eaten.  I asked our birthday girl what she wanted for her birthday.  She said she wanted a cake.  I asked if she wanted anything else.  She wanted a present, and I asked what kind of present, and she said "a cake."  What kind of cake?  A castle cake (how convenient that we have a cast iron castle cake pan).  What flavor?  Chicken.  Well, chicken flavored cake is not that appealing to me as a baker, or a cake eater.  So we talked her into chocolate cake.  She was very satisfied with the end results, though she naturally had to grab at it before we frosted and decorated it.  You can see the finger line down the front. 

For the birthday party on Sunday, my MIL did the honors of making the birthday cake.  It was actually made with homemade brownie mix.  The Texas sheet cake recipe follows the brownie mix recipe.  I've gotta tell you, it was a hit with everyone.  I was jokingly telling my MIL that she was going to have to make a new one because I really wanted to eat the one she made before any of the guests came.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Garden report - the end of May

My garden is mostly in 6 raised beds, though there are quite a bit of other gardening areas throughout the yard.  Rather than blogging, I've been spending most of my day light hours out there, getting things planted.  I am almost done.  Here's what we've got so far:

Bed 1:  Beans, beets & more beets, celeriac, nasturtiums.  The beans and most of the beets are starting to look great.  They aren't even halfway grown yet, but it's still early on and a lot of people are just starting to plant.  I don't think the celeriac is going to make it but it's worth a try.  A friend gave us the nasturtium plant so hopefully it will do well.  Nasturtiums and their leaves taste so good in pesto.

Bed 2:  Garlic, radishes, eggplant, 2 types of lettuce, cilantro that reseeded itself, broccoli raab, and spinach.  The garlic was overwintered from last fall, planted in October.  It should be ready this summer.  I planted radishes between the garlic rows just to have something that would grow fast and give us variety for our also-early-season lettuces.  The eggplant probably won't have a lot of productivity until the garlic is ready to go, so I planted the eggplant so that it can take over the garlic's area after that harvest.  The strawberry spinach, bought as a novelty to give it a taste, isn't coming up at all.  I planted just regular spinach there instead so that it's not wasted space.  The broccoli raab is very pretty so far, but was also bought as a novelty so I don't know how it will taste yet.

Bed 3:  Georgia Jet sweet potatoes, soybeans, purple beans, and cauliflower.  The sweet potatoes were mail ordered.  The instructions did say that they would be okay even if wilted, but they don't look all that well.  I'll give them a chance and see how they do.  I would love to have our own home grown sweet potatoes.  As for the soybeans, I love edamame.  It's a great snack.  Just sprinkle some salt on it and scrape out the beans from the pod with your teeth.  The purple beans are fun.  I finally found my stash of seeds from last year so I planted these again because you can easily find them when harvesting.  The beans do turn green when steamed or cooked though.  The cauliflower is a second attempt.  Last year I grew some (if you could call it growing).  It did not do well at all.  It was way too crowded and had very tiny heads, with black spots on them.  I had to pull them all.  This time, I have different seeds, more space, and hopefully better luck.  Since this was all just planted today, but for the sweet potatoes, the bed just looks like a bin of dirt for the moment.

Bed 4:  Peas, parsnips, carrots, turnips, thyme, parsley, and mint.  The peas are doing very well.  I can see little pea pods forming.  I love eating fresh pea pods right off the vine.  That is one of my favorite tastes.  I am trying parsnips again.  They didn't grow for me last year but I like them so much that I had to try again.  The turnips grew in some areas where seeded but not in others, so I replanted some seeds today in hopes that we'll have a good turnip harvest.  I planted three types of carrots because I want to see if last year's tiny crop was because of some fluke.  I also planted lasts year's seeds in compost, which is a no-no.  I knew it then too, but I wanted carrots and had only compost.  I knew that it would make them fork, but even with what little we had last year, they were tasty.  The thyme came back unexpectedly from last year.  I'll likely replant it near some other herbs in the ground by the back of the house, but I'll leave it for now.  I added the parsley there just because that's where I was when I grabbed it.  As for the mint, well, that was not intentionally planted but was there last year and I can't get it to go away, so I end up pulling it out occasionally, but always unsuccessfully.

Bed 5:  Strawberries.  The entire bed is strawberries, and one hanging basket of strawberries too.  I have been picking off the black spotted leaves and the plants are looking healthy.  We've even got some strawberries almost ready to be picked.

Bed 6:  Lots of tomatoes, two types of basil, and ground cherries.  We diversified our tomatoes so that we have plenty of sauce tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, and pop-in-your-mouth tomatoes.  Basil grows well with them (and is great in pasta dishes and salsa) so the basil always gets planted with the tomatoes.  The ground cherries are doing very well.  This bed is filled with plants from a friend who grew them from seed months before.

In-ground bed & around it:  Onions, zucchini, and potatoes.  We planted 100 onion sets of red, and 100 sets of yellow onions.  That equals a lot of blooming onions in our home.  I only have three zucchini plants growing and that's intentional.  We still have zucchini left in the freezer that we were not able to finish off before this season started.  We have three types of potatoes in bins - blue (saved from last year's), red, and golden.  All of them will taste delicious.  The plants have grown so well that twice already I've had to cover over them. 

We're trying a lot of perennials too.  We planted a second hops, and also put espizote and tobacco nearby, along with more asparagus.  For fruits, we planted honey berries, goji berries, mulberries, currants, Arctic kiwi, 2 paw paw trees, 2 hazelnut trees, a lemon tree and lime tree (to be brought indoors in the winter), and we still need to plant the fig tree.  I think I may have lost two of the four blueberry plants and my Saskatoon blueberry, but I hope they'll come back.    I'm hoping the previous years' plants and trees grow bigger, including the grapes, raspberries, blackberries, apple tree, plum tree, pear tree, peach tree, and cherry trees.  Once these all start producing, we'll have a cornucopia of goods every year.

We did outline a spot for our medicinal garden, but haven't planted anything there yet.  It's an 8x8 area zoned off with wood and we're doing the lasagna gardening style there.  We were unable to get enough compost to start planting there yet.  We hauled two loads on Saturday but then it started raining and they close off the site when it rains, so we'll have to wait for another day.  

Almost forgot - my MIL painted some gourds last year.  Our 3-year-old (yep, she just had a birthday) thought that it would be nice to grow her some more gourds to paint.  We planted those in the hole where Jaimie dug the pit for the Great Plains Style Barbequed lamb.   The birdhouse gourd that she got last year is still hanging outside in the back yard, and the birds yell at me every time I venture near it.

That's our garden report for the end of May.  I'm hoping for more successes to report!

Great Plains Style Barbeque

Jaimie loves cooking, and he loves Rendezvous camping.  One year, when we first met, he was asked to cook a pig at a Rendezvous for someone's graduation.  He decided to dig a pit, build a tripod, hang the pig from the tripod and cover it with canvas (continuously kept wet so that it doesn't burn off).  He dubbed it "Great Plains Style Barbeque."  It was such a hit that he has since cooked many lambs that way as well.  I've also seen his friend cook this way and cook ribs on grill grates hung over the fire this way.  This weekend, he cooked a small lamb Great Plains Style.

Basically, you start a fire and get it burning slow and hot, which is when it's ready to have the meat put in.  It's got to cook almost all day, so hopefully is a comfortable day to be outside.  Keep the hose nearby (when we did this at a Rendezvous, we spent 6 hours hauling water by bucket, but that was for a large pig rather than a small lamb), so that you can keep the canvas constantly wet.  Jaimie likes to toss mesquite chips into a cast iron pot so that it gets a mesquite flavor to the meat.  Check on it occasionally, taste testing as necessary, and then enjoy.   Of course, put out the fire before leaving the area.

Menu plan 5/28/12

Happy Memorial Day.  I hope that you had some time to spend with some loved ones, here and passed.

Memorial weekend Sunday we had a cook out and had a bunch of people over for a family get together.  Jaimie made lamb and chicken over a fire pit, covered by a canvas tarp.  We also had Waldorf salad made by my MIL, Texas sheet cake, also by my MIL, fruit salad, and deviled eggs.  Since I knew we'd have leftover lamb and chicken, this week's menu is based on that.

Monday: Shawarma - made with leftover smoked lamb from our triple birthday party (marinated in yogurt, garlic, ras al hanut powder and lemon juice), put in a pita pocket and topped with tzatziki (Jaimie makes his with plain yogurt and cucumbers, with some onion and garlic), tomatoes, onion, and garlic hummus.

Tuesday:  BBQ chicken sandwiches, onion rings, and pickled veggies

Wednesday:  South west chicken in couscous with tomatoes and cilantro from the garden

Thursday:  A whole chicken (it's already thawed, so it's got to be cooked), potato fries, corn on the cob, and maybe a blooming onion (I found an onion cutting contraption at the thrift store and the menu book includes an Outback style onion and sauce).

Friday:  Oriental style salad (lots of lettuce in the garden) with chicken, mandarin oranges, sunflower seeds and whatever else we toss in there.

Saturday:  Pasta.  Any remaining meat can be tossed into the sauce or used for next week's plan.  Generally, we don't eat meat every day, but I hate to waste.

Have a great week. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Menu plan - week of 5/20/12

Yes, it's actually a plan, rather than a report!  Since it's summer and the girls and hubby are at home, they'll need breakfast, lunch & dinner.  Breakfast will consist of cereal, eggs & whatever Jaimie makes to go with it, leftover pancakes from when we make them on the weekend, or the pastries I make (rhubarb bread, pumpkin muffins, scones, etc.)  Lunches will generally be leftovers or sandwiches, so I'll need to start making bread more often.

Sunday: Salad with fresh lettuce and veggies from the garden.  We'll supplement with some store-bought veggies, adding hard-boiled eggs and sunflower seeds.

Monday:  Quinoa with veggies.

Tuesday:  Egg foo young with rice noodles and veggies

Wednesday:  Black bean and cheese quesadillas.

Thursday:  Tacos (the first and only meat item this week, but for the eggs).

Friday:  Homemade pizza

Saturday:  Falafels

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it all.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Menu plan

Menu (not so much a plan, but a report)

Monday: Salad!  From our garden!  Lots of fresh lettuce, lamb's quarters, and even radishes.  We put in some hard boiled eggs and other nutritious things. 

Tuesday:  fish & rice.  We forgot the veggies, so we had pickled veggies.

Wednesday:  chicken & couscous.  Again, forgot the veggies, so more pickles.

Thursday: chicken noodle salad with carrots in it (yay! we remembered veggies, but only because they were in the salad). 

Friday:  out to eat

Saturday: BBQ chicken pizza and garlic chicken pizza with white sauce.  Once batch of pizza dough makes two thin crust pizzas.  And FRESH salad!

We have been regularly eating fresh veggies from the garden this week.  It's nice that we are now at a point where we can do that.  There's not so much variety yet, but the garden is flourishing and looks promising. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Menu plan

Sunday:  salad with hard boiled eggs.  The salad included lamb's quarters and lettuce from the garden, a radish I accidentally picked too early, and some other (store bought) fresh veggies.

Monday:  loaded baked potatoes.  They included (fake) bacon, sour cream, cheese, and butter.  Delicious.

Tuesday:  chili with the leftover burgers from Saturday's grill out.  We didn't have it Sunday because we had to prepare the beans overnight. 

Wednesday:  BLT wraps.

Thursday:  manicotti with a wonderful alfredo sauce

Friday:  lamb, carrots & couscous

Saturday:  Lily's birthday.  She's requesting cake (chicken flavor).  Then we'll be out at a friend's place - potluck!

Sunday:  Mother's Day and we're going to the May Day parade.  With that much activity, we'll get a take and bake pizza from Papa Murphy's.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Failures are learning experiences

I hadn't been posting on what things we've tried and haven't worked out but a friend suggested that I post the attempts as well, because those can be just as interesting, and certainly educational.  So, here are a couple of our big fails.

Tapping the maple trees -
We tapped two of our neighbor's trees.  Yes, they are maples.  Yes, they were tapped right (slightly angled so that the syrup runs down into the bag).  Yes, we asked permission from the neighbors.  No, we didn't tap too close together or too many taps in one tree.  Despite all those good things, we didn't get any syrup.  That's because we were about 2 weeks late.  Last year in mid March was the time to start tapping.  This year, the syrup season was already over by mid March.  Because it was so warm so early, there wasn't much a syrup season for anyone, but you'll miss the entire season if you don't get out there.  I knew we should have gotten out earlier, but we let our daily life activities get in the way.  We still wanted syrup, so we bought some from a local maple farm when we attended Maple Fest at the end of March (their season was done by that time too, but the fest was planned well before anyone would know when the season would end).  My mom, who was able to tap her trees and get some, said that she and her friend usually get 20-25 quarts each when they are done.  This year, they only got 5 quarts.  We'll try again next year.

Jaimie and our neighbor Jess 

The bathroom project -
This is a BIG fail.  We were so good as demolition.  It's the putting back together part that is the hold up.  I realize that some of this is my fault.  I believed, with Jaimie's ambition, that we could have this finished over his spring break.  Alas, it is now his week of finals over a month later and we still have no shower.  We tore out the rotted wall.  We scraped off the ugly chipped teal plastic tiles.  We hired a plumber to make sure it could get the tub hooked up, and hired an electrician to run some wires and install the fan.  Then we were left with putting up walls, painting, and putting in the tiles, toilet, and sink.

I painted the walls.  The colors were fine, thanks to my MIL.  How it looked on the very roughly sanded and chipped walls did not look so great.  We changed our minds on what we wanted for the tiles (white subway tiles measuring 3 inches by 6 inches to 12 inch by 12 inch ceramic tiles).  With Jaimie's spring break over by this time so he's busy with school, I realize that this project is not going the way we planned.  I also realize that I have some generalizations and preconceived notions about my husband that are really not fair.

It was my belief that men, as a sex, are good with tools.  I also believed that men, just by their virtue of being male, knew about construction and what it entails.  I also had this generalization about men when it came to car repair, but I am learning that it may be better to hire a professional.  Now I'm certain that we'd be able to figure it out, but the task seemed insurmountable with the every day activities taking priority.  (You can't really take off a week of school or work any time you want, and it's difficult to find the extra time with two babes in the house).  So, being overwhelmed we requested some assistance.

It took some calling around and figuring things out, but we hired someone to install the tile.  Fortunately, he was someone we trusted to be in our home while we were out of the house.  Over the course of a week, he put up the walls around the tub, put up the waterproof membrane, and put up the tiles.  He also tiled the floor (hey, if we've got a tile guy, might as well make use of his services).  He left the remaining work to be done for us, but we still weren't quite prepared to deal with it.  The walls were not connected on the sides of the tub, the tiles were too thick and/or not cut to fit the shower hardware, and the grout had cracked around the base of the tub both on the floor and around the tub (meaning it wouldn't be waterproof after sealing it, meaning that we wouldn't be able to shower).

A few more weeks pass and we haven't dealt with the bathroom still.  Yes, we do have another toilet and sink, so that's helpful.  We were thinking of finishing it off ourselves but still seemed too busy, especially now that planting season came early.  We realized that, if we don't get someone to do it, it's just not going to get done.  Jaimie decided that he is not confident in finishing up the project so we will be having someone do it for us. 

I am getting used to washing my hair in a tub.  It's not the easiest with bum-length hair but it's also not convenient to shower elsewhere, and I only wash my hair about twice a week anyway.  The girls think that it's fun to bathe in the kitchen sink (I don't want them splashing and getting the grout wet so only Jaimie and I are allowed to bathe in the tub).  I am looking forward to eventually having a shower in my own home again.

So there you have it.  We made many more fails than just these two, but these are the more interesting ones.  Even with these fails, I still get to relax tonight in a nice warm bath.

Menu plan 4/30/12

The past week we've gone out to eat a lot, which really makes the menu plan not work terribly well.  So, this week was quite a bit of repeats from last week that we didn't get to.

Sunday:  leftover chicken, carrots in brown sugar sauce, couscous

Monday: fish tacos with mango pineapple salsa and avocados
Tuesday: BBQ chicken pizza

Wednesday: falafel (with leftover mango pineapple salsa and baba ganoush)

Thursday:  out to eat when we used up some coupons for free rides at Nickolodeon Universe in the MOA.  Unfortunately, we then ate food court food.  Expensive and not very tasty or satisfying.

Friday:  Cheese quesadillas with choice of leftover dips/salsas (cherry salsa, baba ganoush, corn salsa from our day care provider, and a little mango pineapple salsa).

Saturday:  burgers on the grill with pickled veggies (beets, peppers, cukes)