Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Laundry Detergent $11 per year vs. $300 +

How much do you think you spend a year on laundry detergent?  This was a question I had never asked myself.  According to this site the average family of four spends up to $600 per year.  So, what would you say if I told you that thanks to a very smart friend, I only spent $11 on laundry detergent this year?  Wow!  That's a huge difference.

Want to learn more?  Go here for the recipe.  It takes about 15 minutes to make aa batch of concentrate - which lasts our family about six months.

Last week I shared a bottle of homemade laundry detergent with our wonderful school secretary.  In exchange she sent this recipe for homemade dishwasher detergent.  

Mix together 2 cups borax, 2 cups washing soda, 2 cups lemi shine (find at Walmart with dish washing detergents, close to the dish scrubbers) and 1 cup kosher salt. Mix together. Use 1 tablespoon per load. Side note: The lemi shine makes the mixture cake very hard. Keep the lemi shine separate and just add a bit when you add the detergent. If you mix it with the rest of the ingredients you will have to chisel it out.

What other cleaning/money saving tips do you use?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Green With Envy

Warning:  If your garden isn't giving you copious amounts of greens yet, you might not want to view this post.  You'll be green with envy.

In just one week we've gone from having only frozen vegetables to a cornocopia of greens. 

From the garden:  asparagus, sorrel, spinach and lettuce.
From the neighbors:  THREE bushels of kale!!!!
From the CSA:  More kale, frisee, more spinach, and more lettuce.

Sometimes, like today, I'm having kale for three meals and I love it.  The joy I get from spring greens is definitely one of my favorite reasons to each seasonally.  I just don't think I could get this excited about lettuce if I had it all winter long. 

Here are just some of the ways we've been enjoying our bounty.

Spinach Salad with Double Seed Dressing (Adapted from Simply in Season)

Start with 4 c. spinach (washed, dried and torn)
Then add any of the following:
1 c. fresh fruit (strawberries) or dried fruit (craisins)
cooked egg
green onions
bacon bits
feta cheese
Top with  Dressing:  In a jelly jar shake together 1/4 c. honey, 2 T sesame seeds, 1 T poppy seeds, 1/4 c. balsalmic vinegar or lemon juice, 1/4 c. olive oil, salt and pepper

Bitter Greens Salad with Hot Dressing (Adapted from Simply in Season)

As soon as Soccer Boy saw that this involved bacon he took over and made this salad with very little help from me. 
Wash, dry and chop 8 cups of bitter greens (endive, frissee, dandelions, etc.)
In a small bowl mix 1/4 c. lemon juice, 1/4 c. honey, 1/8 t. salt, 1/2 c. water or evaporated milk
For a vegetarian version add 2 T. olive oil to a skillet and heat slightly.  For a meat version cook 4 slices of bacon - remove the bacon when crispy, but leave the drippings in the pan.  Add  1 T of flour (white - not whole wheat) to the grease.  Then add lemon juice mixture.  Cook until thickened.  Turn off the skillet and gently toss your greens with the dressing.  They will wilt slightly.  Top with hard cooked egg and bacon if desired.

 Sorrel Rhubarb Crisp (Adapted from Simply in Season)

Both kids were delighted with the concept of having vegetables for dessert - a nice twist on getting your greens.

In a large saucepan combine 4 c. chopped rhubarb, 2 cups slices sorrel, 1 c. sugar and 1 t. vanilla.  Cook on medium about 5 min.

Mix together 1/4 c. water and 3 T cornstarch.  Add this to the rhubarb mixture and cook until thickened.

In another bowl stir together 1 c. flour, 1/2 c. flax meal, 1 1/2 c. rolled oats, 3/4 c. brown sugar, 3/4 c. oil or butter, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. cinnamon and 1/2 chopped walnuts.

Put half of the dry mixture in the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan.  Cover with sorrel mixture.  Then top with remaining dry mix.  Bake at 350 for 30 min.

Cheesy Kale and Potato Casserole

This was great on a cold and rainy night.  It warmed the house up and warmed us from the inside out.  Good comfort food - and a great way to use the last of the potatoes.  I think it would be good with sweet potatoes as well.

Cook and mash about 4 cups of potatoes.  Add 3/4 c. buttermilk, 1 egg, 1/4 t. dill weed, 1 t. onion powder, 1 t. salt and 1/4 t. of pepper.

Saute 1 lb. of kale then add to potato mixture.  Add 1/2 c. of cheddar cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30 min.

I've eaten the Kale Salad almost every day for lunch.  I vary it - sometimes using Craisins and pecans, sometimes walnuts and raisins, and sometimes olives and dates.  It's good to be addicted to something so good for me. 
We've also eaten Kale Chips, Confetti Kale, Savory Kale and tomorrow we're having Peanut Greens featuring - you guessed it - Kale. 
For breakfast we've been making smoothies with kale, frozen peaches, and a banana.  It's a gorgeous green - and the taste (suprisingly) is very smooth, rich and creamy.  I drank a whole quart this morning, and could easily have been happy with more.
The girl has even been tolerating all of our kale eating.  I guess she's just glad that spring is here.  Hope the greens are growing for you in your corner of the world.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

How to Get Your Kids To Make Dinner

Relinquish Control

1.  Let them plan the menu. 

Set some basic parameters (one starch, one protein, a vegi or two and maybe fruit).  Let them make dessert too.  My kids love having this kind of control.  It's one night when they wind up liking everything on their plates.

2.  Have them plan in advance.

Schedule a Kid's Cook Night on a weekend when they can get started early.  If you grow much of your own food and you eat seasonally let them know what you have on hand.  Then have them gather their recipes and make a grocery list.

3.  Stay out of their way, but remain available for questions if needed.

When my kids are in charge of dinner I stay in the house, but I stay out of the kitchen.  I let them have as much control over the process as possible.  I suspend my fear that they might burn a hand or cut a finger.  Since the kids help in the kitchen frequently I feel comfortable with their basic cooking skills - using small knives, taking light things in and out of the oven, moving small pots, etc.  I still help with things that could be really dangerous - draining large pots, using the food processor, etc.

4.  Offer only compliments

Praise their cooking, and any cleaning they do.  Turn a blind eye to the crumbs on the floor and the flour on the counter.  If you are really lucky you'll manage to schedule a Kid's Cook Night on a night when your husband is in charge of cleaning the kitchen.

5.  Let them watch a movie while they eat dinner.

This adds an extra special element of festivity.

6.  Thank them.

I love these nights when the kids cook.  It's great to get a night out of the kitchen.  But it's even better to see their responsibility and teamwork in action.  I love the skills they're creating and the confidence they're gaining.  The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives.

On the menu:  Fettuccine Alfredo, Greek Salad, Applesauce

For dessert:  Peanut Butter Cookies


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Now The Green Blade Rises

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
Martin Luther
Earlier today I wrote here about gun control.  My mind was full of death and sorrow - so after school I went hunting for signs of spring.  I don't know about you - but I'll stand with Luther on this one too... Gardening is a form of Prayer.
Just a little Catfishing mom.  Don't worry - no hook!

Pansies and creative protection from marauding chickens.

Chives, Echinacea and more chicken protection
Daffodils and mint

Lemon Balm

Forsythia in all its glory

Red Raspberry canes coming back to life

Garlic (and weeds) with more chicken protection

Peach blossoms!  I feel the juice on my chin already.
Lettuce, beets, carrots, spinach, chard and garlic growing under row cover.  Can you see the sprouts at the right?

Giant Red Indian Mustard Greens - in a very tiny form.

Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts growing under row cover.

Asian greens - overwintered and ready for harvest.

Row cover using PVC pipe -  new method with the new beds works great!

Row Cover using wire hoops - tried and true.

Parsnips - overwintered... just when I thought we were done with root vegetables.

Chard - self seeded and growing back.

Baby chard growing from the roots of last year's plants.

After all of that spring tonic I headed inside with a basket full of goodies to make a spring celebration meal.  Soccer Boy is my new Sous Chef- he did the Deviled Eggs and the Rice.  I did the rest.

Stuffing the deviled eggs
Isn't this gorgeous?  Trust me - it tasted as good as it looks. 

Brown Rice Supper Adapted slightly from Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison

Cook some brown rice (about 2 cups).
Make peanut sauce - in blender or food processor buzz 1 c. peanuts, 1/2 c. lemon balm or cilantro, a small handful of mint, a few squirts of lime juice, a few T of sesame oil, 1 t. soy sauce and salt to taste.  Add a bit of hot pepper if desired
While that's cooking cut up some ginger and carrots.  Stir fry them for a few minutes and then add a 1/2 cup of water, cover and turn the burner to low.
Cut tofu into triangles and pan fry until they're a bit brown and crispy.
Add green onion and spring greens to the carrot pan.  Stir a bit.  Taste for salt - add some if needed.
Put the brown rice on the plate, cover with the vegetables, add a few pieces of tofu, then pile on some of the peanut sauce.

This was divine - it was exactly what I needed to satisfy my spring cravings and to heal my soul.  I was also super pleased that I managed to use so much of what was growing for our first harvest meal (sorrel, Asian greens, onion, garlic scapes, mint, lemon balm, sorrel and chives all made their way to the table).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dissolve My Heart in Thankfulness

We had an incredibly blessed and family filled weekend.   We started the celebrations on the Wednesday night before Easter and weren't really done with our family party until the following Tuesday.  We spent a lot of time together - cooking, eating, talking and enjoying being together.
My mom had asked me to bake nut roll for my Grandma's 90th birthday celebration.  So, on Wednesday after school I made the dough and the nut filling.  Then after dinner Reading Girl and I filled and rolled the nut roll.  I usually ask the kids to join me in the kitchen.  But, due to the business of the evening  - we got home late, we were packing, I was finishing laundry, homework needed done, showers, etc.- I hadn't asked them to help.  However, once Reading Girl realized what I was doing I couldn't keep her out of the kitchen.  A nice feeling all on its own.  I was really pleased with how the nut roll turned out.  My Aunt Y told me that they were even better than my great grandma's (and she learned how to make hers in the old country).

Nut Filling

1 1/4 lb. walnuts - ground
3/4 c. sugar
3 T honey
1/2 - 3/4 can condensed milk
Put all of the above ingredients into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until thick - stir frequently.

Nut Roll

1 c. milk
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c.sugar
1 t. salt
Scald the milk.  Remove from heat.  Add the butter, salt and sugar.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
Put 1/4 c. warm water in your mixing bowl.  Add 1 T yeast.  Then add cooled milk mixture, two eggs and 4 c. flour.  Knead until smooth.
Let the dough rise 1-2 hours.  Then divide into 4 parts.  Roll into a 9x13 square and fill generously with the nut filling.  Roll (like you would for making cinnamon rolls).  Place seam side down on a greased sheet and shape into a crescent.  Rise for 15 min.  Brush with beaten egg right before baking.  Bake for 30 min. (until golden brown) at 350.
Adding the nut filling

Shaped and Rising for the Second Time

Rolling the Nut Roll

Golden Brown Perfection

Test piece - yum!  Eaten warm from the oven with a bit of butter.

Thursday after school we headed to the farm.  Dad made me an early birthday dinner of Guiness marinated steaks.  They were delicious.  Soccer Boy and I enjoyed getting back to our caveman roots - we gnawed on the bones and didn't waste a morsel.  Since only half of our house eats meat we don't even own a grill - Daddy always makes me feel good and spoiled when he makes steak for dinner.  Love on a plate - grass fed, local steak grilled to medium rare perfection outdoors while he stood in sleet and freezing rain. 

Guinness Stout Marinated Steaks with Guinness butter topping. 
Friday morning the kids and I went out for the last ski trip of the year.  Western PA has gotten snow almost every other day all winter so every trail was open - even the little ones that run through the woods.  The day was warm and sunny.  The slopes were virtually empty.  The snow was soft and slow, so I was even brave enough to do several black diamond trails (the hardest ones), something I'm usually entirely too chicken to do.  Reading Girl was insistent that I try.  She sent me down the mountain first and then encouraged me the whole way.  What a great kid.  I'll be basking in the warmth of those memories for a long time.  The Woodsman joined us in the afternoon, and then we all went out for dinner before I headed off to join my parents and sister at the Good Friday service.

A Cold Farm House Means Warm Morning Snuggling
Saturday morning we headed out to help Farmer Dan tear down the sugar camp (more on that in a later post), then we cleaned up and headed to Matka's party.  It was a wonderful afternoon.  We saw cousins that we usually only see once a year.  My grandma had a smile from ear to ear for most of the afternoon.  She's so proud of getting to 90.  After the reception we took Grandma out to our favorite local Italian restaurant.  With our bellies stuffed full of Rizzo's Antipasta, Eggplant Parm and Fettuchini we took the kids home, tucked them in and went out to Tulune's Beer Emporium to share conversations and Goulden Caralis Easter Barley Beer with The Woodsman, my sister, brother-in-law, favorite cousin, and my best friend from high school.  We talked, and talked and the conversation didn't stop until almost 1 in the morning.  It's such a fulfilling experience to be with people who know you so well, and who have known you forever.  I never feel more like myself than when I'm with those people who love me so much.
A very blurry pic of Grandma on her birthday.  I wish I had a better one.  She looked beautiful.

Serving the cake and ice cream - Soccer Boy wore his Pap's boyhood cowboy tie.


Yum!  This Nut Roll is good!

I wish I could have bottled this cuteness to take it home.
Uncle H. enjoys his great grandbabby.

The two teachers encourage swap strategies to survive the rest of the year.

Nat and Aunt Mar share Pizelles and conversations

All pretty in purple and ready to play.
Sunday morning was Easter, and my birthday.  We spent the morning in church together.  Soccer Boy has really started to sing the hymns - it puts joy in my heart to hear him belt out the Alleluijahs.  Then after chuch we gathered for an Easter dinner (with Grandma and my Aunt D).  The definite highlight of the whole meal was my birthday cheesecake (Meyer Lemon with Lemon Ginger Curd) lovingly created by my sister.  Every mouth was heaven.

And,as if that wasn't enough celebration, we stopped and did something we never do - we had Shamrock Shakes from McDonald's for dinner.  I almost always give up sugar for Lent, and Lent usually falls squarely during March so I hadn't enjoyed a Shamrock Shake for probably a decade.  Amazing how something so simple can bring so much joy.  I felt like I was about 10 years old when The Woodman carried them out to the car.
Cheesecake with Meyer Lemon Ginger Curd
Finally, on Monday evening we celebrated Easter at home as a family.  Reading Girl was very involved with my Easter basket this year.  She worked really hard to make sure that I had lots of goodies I really like including Ethiopian coffee and Fair Trade Dark Chocolate.  Gotta love that kid.
The Easter Bunny left lots of books for the kids and Laser Pointers for the cat.
This was probably the best birthday weekend I've ever had.  What more can a girl want?  Great food and a loving family - it's all I need.