Photo: Great grandparents at their farm in Blandinsville, IL, with five of their six children .. my grandpa was yet a twinkle in grandma's eye. Stable boy and governess also pictured. Hodges farm, circa 1903-4

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Digging for Yukon Gold ....

potatoes that is. In April I planted several rows of these delicious golden nugget seed potatoes along with a few rows of red 'new' potatoes. Yesterday a few were harvested, boiled, mashed with half and half, sprinkled with sea salt, and infused with a mix from my mini blender of butter and fresh basil. The result ... heaven! Add a quick stir fry of tender pork loin strips with freshly picked carrots, onion, and garden sugar peas .. and we dined on a delicious and easy meal. No gravy required ;)

Eating from the garden is akin to having dined on food kissed by a technicolor rainbow. The flavor explodes with rich 'colors' not found in store bought fare. All those years growing up .. eating canned veggies and hamburger helper ... years 'wasted' food wise ;(

My best childhood memories of food always drift back to visiting with relatives during the month of July that lived on farms in Illinois .. or had backyard gardens and home canned foods. We in the USA have grown accustomed to over processed, chemically altered, blah foods that hold no candle to nutrition and/or taste compared to home grown food. I encourage anyone that hasn't planted a garden to start planning for next year to give it a try. Even if you just try growing tomatoes and herbs in containers on your back deck or patio ... it's a start to wake up the inner gardener inside all of us.

artwork credit here

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cookbook Review:

I never buy books. Why buy when you can borrow from the library? This week's run to the public library netted half a dozen great cookbooks. Currently, I'm perusing, "The Little House Cookbook" ... about "Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories." Having read all of the Little House books, this cookbook has a lot of pioneer recipes that I wondered about when reading said books. The author, Barbara M. Walker, has done a great job of reliving a portion from the novels that recall certain foods the Ingalls family ate. She has adapted the recipes and some of the ingredients to modern measurements/products, but for the most part, has done an excellent job of retaining authenticity to the pioneer era. Illustrations are by Garth Williams; I believe he illustrated the series I read. This is a good read for those of you that would enjoy minimalist ingredients and a sense of history through the preparation of food. At one time I had wanted to make 'ginger water' as described in The Long Winter book. Having mistakenly made the likes of ginger beer, this book describes the beverage ginger water or switchel .. a non alcoholic drink given to farmers on hot days. I shall try to once again make this drink. It sounded so refreshing as I read through the book years ago.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Taking care of your health.

Old time remedies may just soon have a comeback ... especially if President Obama's health reform bill is passed .. and we are forced to give up our private insurance care. There is talk about the many limits on what treatment will or will not be available under this scheme.

I have a fascination with 1800's cookbooks. There is usually a section of good health advice and remedies from nature to help alleviate some common maladies and prevent poor health in the first place. Admittedly, some have talk of adding opium to tinctures which gave me a good chuckle. Some of the remedies seem plausible as prevention. Simple ideas such as serving 'milk toast' to an invalid, alleviation of growing pains in children, leanness (not too common today, eh) remedy, etc. give new food for thought at taking better care of our bodies in the first place. Preventative medicine .. goes along the lines of the old saying, 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' .. My latest read is: The Original White House Cookbook, 1887 edition. It has all manner of intriguing articles from carving meats .. to measures and weights in ordinary use. In between there are recipes for custards, cordials, rabbit stew, turtle soup ... and mock turtle soup. This last entry gave my daughter a fright when I asked her what 'mock' meat was used in place of the turtle. She read: "Scald a well-cleansed calf's head, remove the brain, tie it up in a cloth, and boil an hour , or until the meat will easily slip from the bone ..." Sorry I asked! Even with the old recipes, there are others that give great instruction that are more appetizing to our current likes. Refrigeration was not readily available (electric) so ice and dry curing methods were used. This is definitely a good read. Check it out in full context here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thrifty Home Finds.

I spotted a Kitchenaid mixer paddle yesterday at a vintage store. Price $2.99. Mine went missing about a year ago .. or did I throw it away when the paint started coming off (?). Anyhow, the perfect replacement just happened to appear .. so I purchased it today. Ann (my daughter) had her wisdom teeth removed (ouch), and while waiting for her prescription, I dashed across the street to some thrifty/vintage stores. Another item on my 'to find at bargain basement prices' list was a nice pair of off white king size pillow cases for my bed. At the Hospice store, they had a pair of barely or never used luxurious Egyptian cotton king cases .. asking price: $.50 ea. A christmasy pillowcase for a quarter was had to repurpose into a holiday apron .. some scrap material totaling $.50 to make new kitchen table napkins ... a pressed glass shaker bottle for storing baking soda in my bathroom for cleaning the sinks ... $.25, and a dainty little glass syrup/cream pitcher with lid .. $.45. How about a Hepplewhite (shield back) chair from the Salvation Army for $7.99 (I already have fabric to reupholster the seat) ... some mismatched tea cup saucers (vintage of course) ranging from .$25 to $3.99 will be perfect to 'repurpose' as soap dishes this Christmas with a bar of homemade soap. Christmas shopping in July. Repurposing inexpensive castoffs into new and usable items. Very rewarding. Total spent .. under $20. I would have spent at least that much to buy a new mixer paddle with the cost of shipping. No, I didn't buy all this stuff while my daughter sat in the car (silly) ... some was purchased yesterday ... what kind of mom do you think I am? ;)

Do you shop at used or vintage shops? Tag sales? One man's junk is another man's treasure :)

Wall art photos: Little Girl Eating Biscuit .. Rumford Baking Powder vintage advertisement framed (copyrighted 1885) $1.25. Little girl rocking her dolly .. $.75

Turnip greens (at least the ones from my garden) are not bitter. They are not palatable fresh (such as spinach) due to prickly fuzz, but blanched they are delightful. I have had success feeding them to my children by chopping them up (about 1/2 inch diced, thick stem parts removed) along with some carrots, celery and onions. Brown rice and chicken stock make a good addition as well with said veggies. If I told them to eat their turnip greens (alone), they might just turn up their noses! For 'non greens' eaters, the trick is to not overpower them by eating all greens. Moderation is a good thing. Are you a 'greens' eater? If so, care to share a quick fix?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How to make a turnip/rutabaga hater into a lover of root veggies.

I'm a master of disguise (with food that is ;) If you want to get your family to consume healthy root veggies but they balk, try what I do.

Most kids will eat mashed potatoes (minus those with sensitive gag reflexes). When we have an abundance of turnips I boil a few in with the potatoes and mash them together. This will work with rutabagas too, but they have different cooking times so you may need to start the rutabagas ahead of the potatoes or cook them in separate pans. I've had success getting my family to eat both roots when they are prepared as follows:

I never measure (except when baking).

Using about one cup of mashed cooked turnips or rutabagas for every two to three cups of mashed potatoes add to taste the following: Butter, half & half, one small bud of pressed fresh garlic, salt & pepper. Now for a special treat ... add anywhere from one teaspoon to a tablespoon of prepared horseradish .. mix well ... and serve steaming hot garnished with your favorite fresh garden herb sprinkled on top. No gravy needed.

This combination is always a 'smash' hit.

Tomorrow I'll give some tips for getting your loved ones to eat turnip greens.

I have become quite good at getting my kids to eat their veggies. My son, Nathan, age 13 (and the possessor of an extra chromosome ;) has taken a liking to quite a variety of garden greens. For someone that beat great odds to survive (2% chance), having been tube fed for the first four years, and me not giving up on teaching him to eat ... has turned into one of my best eaters.

Tonight I made one of his favorite veggie combos, peas and carrots.

Here are some vague directions for the dish.

You can be the judge of the serving size for your family.

Cook equal amounts of diced carrots and cut up sugar snap peas in a shallow pan of boiling water for five minutes; drain and set aside. Put a pat of butter in the pan to melt and quickly saute a small amount of diced onion. Add the peas and carrots back to the pan along with a sprinkle of dill weed, sea salt, black pepper and a 1/2 teaspoon of honey to taste. I need to remember to make a double batch next time as we always run out of this favorite dish.

Tomorrow I'll share how I got my family to enjoy turnips, including the greens, rutabagas, and horseradish.

My kids HATE shelled peas but will always eat the sugar snap variety. Nathan thinks they're green beans ... I'm OK with that!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Taking & Making Stock:

A frugal homemaker will not waste her provisions. If you can purchase a good quality whole local chicken for half the price of already cut up portions, buy the whole bird. Learn to cut up the chicken yourself and freeze or use immediately. Once the back bones have been cut from the bird, you can easily wrap them and freeze for later use. Today was the day to prepare for the autumn and winter meals by making homemade chicken stock. I used about seven back portions including the necks to make my broth. Other ingredients added to enrich the flavor and nutrition were fresh carrots, celery, onions and herbs, as well as dried garlic slivers, black peppercorns and a smidgen of sea salt.

Today's batch should last well into winter. The next stock will be made from a turkey carcass after Thanksgiving dinner. Yesterday I took inventory of my freezer and pantry supplies and found only two jars in the freezer, and three in the basement pantry.

I prefer the taste of homemade stock from the freezer, however, it takes up quite a bit of space. For some of our needs, I pressure can it in quart size jars for longer shelf life. This frees up valuable freezer space and ensures we have some for year round use.

To make chicken stock:

Use your largest stock pan. Put seven to eight frozen chicken backs and neck pieces in pan. Add several whole onions cut in quarters; onion skin will impart a nice warm color, four large carrots, and three or fours stalks celery. Add your favorite herbs (mine are oregano, rosemary, thyme and black peppercorn) and a few teaspoons of salt (this is not much salt ... you don't want the stock salty). Fill pot with water a few inches shy of the top. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer (covered) for three to four hours or until all the chicken meat falls off the bones. Cool the stock and remove chicken and veggie pieces. You can pick through the meat and set aside. Strain the cooled broth several times and skim the fat. Pour into clean jars leaving a few inches of head space for expansion during freezing. Store in the deep freeze after the liquid is completely cool. Will last for about twelve months.

With any chicken meat you remove from the bones, place in a freezer safe container and cover with some of the broth. This will make a quick addition when you want to make chicken soup this winter.

I feed the cooked veggies to my dog mixed with her dry food over the course of a week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rhubarb Pie:

You need four cups of fruit. This can be made with all rhubarb ... or if you don't have four cups, mix in enough fresh or frozen strawberries to make the total fruit equal four cups. I used three cups rhubarb and one cup strawberries for my pie.

4 C diced rhubarb (leave on the skin ... stalks only as leaves are poisonous)
1-1/4 to 2 cups sugar
1/4 C flour
1/2 tsp. lemon zest (optional)
1 T. butter

Mix the above (except for butter) ingredients in a large bowl and let sit for at least fifteen minutes (to get the juices flowing)

Make your pie crust(s). I never use a bottom crust (who needs the extra calories)! Put the fruit into a pie pan. Cut up the butter and place the small pieces over the filling. Cover with a top crust. Turn the crust edges under a bit and press against the top edge of the pan. Cut a few slits in the top and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar. Bake in a preheated 450 oven for ten minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 F and bake for 35-40 minutes. I always place a cookie sheet under the pie pan when baking to catch any drippings.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

What's being harvested this week in the garden?

I got so excited today to pick some rhubarb! I planted it only this spring and was directed that it needs to wait until the second year before harvesting a few stalks ... but one of the three plants had some gigantic stalks that were just aching to be made into a pie. There are still plenty of small and medium size pieces left (at least 40 between the three plants) to carry it over until next years production.

Our sugar peas are being picked each morning. I have enough for the freezer every few days ... and some for the evening dinner table. My walla-walla onions are so plentiful that a few were picked (undersized) to go with the peas for our meal.

The lettuce is producing well with several different varieties. Our turnips are thinning out, but newly planted seeds are already sprouting. Radish and green onions as well as spinach have made delicious salad ingredients too.

Herbs including thyme, basil, rosemary, cilantro, and tarragon have regular appearances in the nightly fare.

We have had no slug problems around the veggies that had ground up egg shells sprinkled on the soil. And relatively few bugs on the lettuce.

What have you been harvesting?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Continuing world wide kitchen table discussion that started at 'Down to Earth' website.

We are in economic hard times. The government would like everyone to spend their way out of said poor economy. If you want to stay one step ahead of our crazy new 'non' taxes that are really taxes ... just renamed that are sure to eat a great percentage of your hard earned money ... you might want to consider some cost saving ways to help ease the coming financial collapse of the late great United States. I have been able to trim quite a bit from our budget by rethinking how our money is being spent.

In the hair care department alone, by letting my natural color shine through, and letting my hair grow out a bit (requiring fewer cuts), I've gone from $900 per year down to $100.

Savings $800

We discovered when Ann was away on vacation for ten days that no one was watching TV (other than the news). We have been paying $61 per month for satellite service. I can catch the news on line or in the newspaper, thereby saving $732 a year.

By planning a large grocery shopping trip once a month and not purchasing as many prepackaged food items (instead making most of our food from scratch) I have been enjoying a savings of ... get this ... 30 to 40 % of our average food bill. This includes the savings from making most of our natural cleaning products and not buying all of the paper disposable goods we once used.

In a typical month I fill up my vehicle once every three weeks costing approximately $45. Past driving habits would require a fill up once a week. Savings: $120/month. We live 13 miles from the closest grocery store ... so by making my once a week trip to town our cost has gone down tremendously. DH's car gets super good mileage. He drives a 1999 Ford Escort with over 250,000 miles and averages about 40 mpg. No trading in his clunker for us!

Our generation has been sold a bill go goods ... and as a nation, we've fallen for it hook, line and sinker. We are over consumers. Our economy is in a free fall fix. There were too many merchants peddling the same old stuff. When you start thinking outside the box, and get off the fast track of consumerism, it doesn't take long to figure out how to make do with less. Yes, even in the cleaning products that you buy. With a supply of baking soda, soap, vinegar, and some cleaning rags made from your old terry cloth towels you are off to a good start making natural cleaners and start saving money ... as well as being kinder to your health and the environment.

It's time to take back the home making and life skills of our grandparents and ancestors that were not tainted by the 'sin' of over consumerism.

Friday, July 03, 2009


Where Does Your Money Go/Grow?

One of my favorite blogs, Down To Earth, is promoting a "No Spend Week", in which hubby and I are going to participate. Since yesterday was our once a month big grocery shopping trip, we're off to a good start to begin this endeavor tomorrow. What is a no spend week? Silly, it means you don't spend any money for a whole week! Why would anyone not want to spend money for a whole week? To drive home how much money a person/family can spend unconsciously/deliberately without much planning. The current economic situation has been partly a result of reckless spending. As Cindy at "Letters From Midlife" finds a cure for 'stuff-itis' (the awful habit of collecting too much STUFF), have you given much thought to your spending habits on stuff? (I have been weeding out closets for the past few years and donating stuff to local charities, or helping my adult children have needed items as they leave home). I think most families can (out of necessity) trim their spending habits and get themselves out of debt. Bad habits are easy to pick up and hard to break. Are you up to the challenge of a no spend week? Would you be willing to divvy up your money each payday and use an 'envelope system' to help develop good spending habits. Remember, sometimes less is more. We used this system years ago when our children were young. It was a great tool to teach them how delaying the purchase of an item and waiting until you had enough money saved is necessary to stay out of debt.