27 October 2010

Pardon my dust...

I'm in the process of moving things around, so if there's nothing to see when you click on a link, don't be alarmed!  I'm just slow getting things the way I want them.  And I'm not too happy with the choices of fonts we have... oh, well.

26 October 2010

Making healthy foods unhealthy

 What do you do when you have tons of apples that are quickly getting mushy, and the kids are tired of eating apples for every snack?  Make caramel, of course!

For some reason I got a huge sweet tooth this week.  I'm really not big on sweets- they make my teeth hurt, but caramel apples just seem to fit this time of year.  We tried the apple on a stick thing last year, but little mouths and hands had a tough time with it.  This year, we sliced a bunch of apples and made caramel for dipping.  Yum.  As a person that doesn't like sweets that much, I could drink this caramel, but I forced myself to use the apple slices to get it to my mouth.  And I had a stomach ache for a while.

Here's the recipe, taken from a caramel popcorn recipe I got from my mother-in-law.
Best Ever Popcorn Balls!
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cream or canned milk
1/2 cup white Karo syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

For popcorn balls, heat to 250 degrees, that's soft ball stage, then pour over 4-5 quarts popped corn.
We wanted a dip, so we heated to about 225-230 and as it cooled, it was just right. Not too runny, not too thick.

As if that wasn't unhealthy enough, I ran across a recipe for sugared cinnamon almonds made in a crock pot.  I'm a sucker for those nuts you see and smell at workshops and such.  I know my husband loves them, and since his birthday is next week, I made them for him.  I don't think they'll still be around at birthday time, so we'll probably have to make more.  I think these will be gifts for neighbors this year.  You can find the recipe at A Year of Slow Cooking, one of my favorite blogs for recipes.

And now, off to eat some rice cakes and carrot sticks... too many almonds today.

Oh, and ignore this little thing.  I have to post this code to be verified for something, so here it is...

25 October 2010

Roasting pumpkin seeds

Friday night, we had the great idea to carve pumpkins with the kids, which actually means that the kids pick out crazy designs and then the parents stay up late working on them because I'm not giving my kids any sharp objects to cut with.  The kids got the pumpkins that we grew in the garden, but we bought a bigger one for us big kids.  Hubby decided to use the dremel tool.  He finished the princess and the ghost so we could finally get the kids to bed and then worked on mine.  He kept saying it was mine, but I never got to touch it.  Here's the finished product:

 As I waited for him, and since I had already washed all the seeds, I was perusing all the tabs here on blogger, and I discovered the stats tab.  Somehow, someone got here from a Russian website.  I can't understand the website, but judging from the pictures, it's a building design site.  I can't figure that one out.  It was interesting and fun to see all the different countries that have visited my little blog.

After I picked out some seeds to save, we roasted the rest to eat.  It actually took three days to get the finished product.  I washed them that first night, then Saturday, I mixed in some olive oil and seasoned salt, but we had a full day of activities, so I didn't get the chance to actually roast them.  Finally, yesterday, I roasted them in the oven.  325 for 25 minutes, stirring them up sometime in the middle.  The kids loved them.
They are already gone. 

22 October 2010

Living off of food storage: Meal planning, part 2

I talked a bit about not wanting to go back to the meals we had as newlyweds. I also do not want to go back to our meals from the few years after that. I graduated, we moved, we added two children. Every day, I seemed to forget that dinner doesn't cook itself. Suddenly, it was 4 o'clock and I had nothing planned, nothing defrosted, no energy left to come up with something brilliant. I would call hubby and have him pick up Taco Bell on his way home. Or Burger King, or Quiznos, or... you get the picture.

Then one night, I realized that I was causing myself undue stress. I like to cook, I know how to cook, all I need to do is prepare a little. Back then it was just hubby and I buying value meals, but it was still between 15-20 dollars for a meal. Now, there are four of us, so our fast food bills are closer to $30. When I have a plan, we don't do the desperation fast food meals so often. I love the feeling of having dinner ready to cook, or already cooking. When we are driving around town and hubby asks, do you have something planned for dinner, or should we stop and grab something, I can triumphantly say, "Dinner is in the crockpot!" We save so much money by simply cooking at home. Plus, I'm a little less fat. Win, win.

Knowing how much it helps me, I dove into my new meal plan. As I started working through it, however, I noticed that every once in a while, I found myself dreading the coming week. I felt completely uninspired to cook, something I truly enjoy doing. In trying to figure this out, I noticed that there would be one or two meals planned for the week that were very complicated or time consuming, or just not that great. We didn't want to eat them, or prepare them that often. For example, lasagna is not my forte. I don't have a great recipe, so I don't love the product. I just couldn't get motivated to make it. Maybe if I have tons of spare time one day, I'll make five pans of it and put them in the freezer. On the other end of the spectrum, I love schnitzel, but it takes time and work. That meal is more suited to special occasions, not a monthly making.

For my improved meal plan, I took another look at that list of meals. I made smaller lists, one for things that I like to make and we don't mind eating every month or more, and one for things we like, but may not want that often. Then there is another list- actually a pile of papers in my notebook- of things I would like to try or maybe improve on.

Now, I have a four week rotation of meals. Each week has 4-5 meals planned out. The remaining days, I choose from the other lists, or have a leftover extravaganza. This gives me a great start on the weekly plan, but still allows some freedom for variety. So far, I like it, but I am still tweaking things and adding new things. I had fun trying out summer harvest recipes, but now we're transitioning more into soups.

Figuring out how much I need of what has gotten interesting. I had already stored up most of the food for my first meal plan. I figure I'll still use the basics no matter what I make though, so instead of figuring all that out again, I'm keeping track of what I use from what I had stored. Hopefully this time next year, I'll have it a little more scientific-like. For now, I'm doing old fashioned subtraction.

Here's my meal plan, for now. I'll probably keep playing with it, and I need to add a few things, but this will give you an idea.

Week 1





Stroganoff/ chops & sauce

Sometimes list

Week 2




baked potato bar

Chick enchiladas/

Sometimes list

Week 3

Tacos /Navajo taco

Stir-fry /Orange chicken


Meatball/ roll-ups



Week 4

Sloppy Joes



Fry/grilled chicken

Crock-pot chicken


Sometimes List

German noodles





Hamburger Pie

Shepherd’s Pie



Pasta Griffa

Chicken Parmesan

Alfredo Chicken

Cobb salad


Stuffed Chicken

Chicken Dumplings

Rotisserie chicken


Calico beans

Spicy beef


White Chili




Baked Potato Soup

Chicken Tortilla


To Try



19 October 2010

Living off of food storage: Meal planning, part 1

Okay, I talked last time about why I stockpiled food. Now I want to talk about what food to store. There are generally two ways to look at it. You can store things that will last a lifetime - an "in case of emergency" food supply, like my mother's fake meat. Or, there's the store what you eat mindset, where you buy a few extra items that you usually buy while at the grocery store. That one never works for me because I forget to easily, or I don't restock as I use it.

My plan was inspired by a woman from the Everything Under the Sun blog, although I didn't find her blog until after I had heard her plan. What she suggests is selecting 7 breakfasts and 7 dinners that you like and then figuring out how much of each ingredient you need for each meal and then multiply that by 52. Just like that, you know how much food to store for the entire year.

A nice idea in concept, but I don't want to eat the same food every week of the entire year. I've done that with frozen pot pies and it gets really old. I decided to write down every dinner that we like. It came out to be well over a month's worth of meals. It just seemed like a good idea to implement the weekly food idea as a 6 week meal idea.

I went to work scrawling out amounts. Had I followed her advice about writing each of those meals down on a note card, my life would have been easier. However, I seem to need to do things the hard way first. That's just the way I am. I wrote on my recipes, multiplying everything by 13 (threw that extra month in, just in case). Then I had to try to pull all those amounts together.
This is what I ended up with...

This is just one page. The scanner is so smart, it automatically crops the ugly edges off, so you can't see the other 5 pages stacked behind this one. This page is amazingly neat. Did I mention, I did this the hard way?

Finally, I got everything tallied and since we had a good 8 months till we would leave for school, I decided to start doing the meal rotation right away, and I'm glad I did because I found a flaw in my reasoning. This is where those note cards would have come in especially handy.

In the planning, I figured on using each meal about once a month. It seemed simple enough that way, but I found that some meals just don't want to be made that often. Like lasagna, or crepes. I ended up re-evaluating my meals and I came up with a system that I am pretty happy with. I'll let you in on it in my next food storage post, so you can hopefully learn from my mistakes.

18 October 2010

Blogging about my blog... is that self-centered?

I've been in the blog world for a few months now, and I'm still confused by some things... like linking...not how, just...why?...

But that's not what is on my mind tonight. I'm wanting to change the look of my blog a bit. I love browns, but now, living in a basement, I think I need more color. I was poking around the little tabs here, learning some things I missed the first time around, and I noticed a few things.

First, the web address for my blog is different than my blog name. I don't know if I should change that, or if that would lose me to all who know me. Anyone know the answer to that?

Second, it occurs to me that my blog title is wordy. I want to change it. Will that screw things up terribly? I don't want to totally change it, just tweak it a bit. I'm just afraid I will suddenly find that I am talking to myself.

I was thinking, "Daydreams of a Cowgirl Homemaker" or, "Daydreams of an Urban Cowgirl" (or Urbanized, although I'm not sure that fits...you can take a girl out of the country, but...)

I googled urban cowgirl, and came up with a radio talk show host and a lot of fashion stuff. I'm not fashionable, nor do I talk on the radio. Wouldn't want to confuse anyone...but I kind of like that title. I googled the cowgirl homemaker title and found...me! Maybe that's a sign... Now that I look at them together, I kind of like the first one...

What do you think? Any great title ideas?

The daydreaming fits me terribly. I've always been a daydreamer. I loved those long school bus rides home and would sometimes not notice that we had arrived at my stop, being too deep in some dream. I don't think I'll ever grow out of it, and I don't want to.

Anyway, things might change a bit in the next week or so, so don't be scared. It's just me, being random and silly.

Living off of food storage: Why a year supply?

Why a full year supply of food?

In my experience, people either understand storing lots of food or they don't. My mom has a large storage room, so I'm quite used to the idea of having extra food on hand. No need to drive to town if we run out of anything, just go downstairs and get more. I like that feeling of preparedness, plus, it cuts down on impulse purchases if you can stay out of the grocery store.

But, why so much food? People are starting to see the wisdom in having some extras on hand, but a full year? Many people stock piled food in fear of some huge catastrophe, such as the Y2K scare. But it seems to me that having enough food on hand would ease much of the burden for families struggling through this recession. Just having oats, pasta and beans on hand would insure healthy eating, even if it's not delicious. I know many families have been grateful for their storage while they are going through job changes, or unemployment. For us, heading off to school without much income, it seems like the best plan. With so many unknowns in the coming year... will we be moving again? Staying here? Finding summer work elsewhere? Staying for summer classes? Will we run out of money? ...I want to be sure I can feed my kiddos and feed them well.

I don't want a repeat of the first two years of my marriage. I was still attending college and my husband was working and taking evening classes. I was way too busy to plan meals, and our tiny apartment barely had room for our dishes, let alone any food storage. We ate frozen pot pies (the cheap ones) and pasta roni almost exclusively for those two years. Sometimes we shook it up with hamburger helper. While these meals were very cheap, they were also lacking. I can honestly say that I have not had a frozen pot pie since then. I want to be able to eat real, quality food.

Moderation, however. It seems that in my mother's day, storing for the long term was the thing. She has enough hard red wheat to feed an army, as well as can after can of pretend meat -textured vegetable protein- which will store forever. Good thing, because it will never be eaten.

I want to be somewhere in the middle. Enough for a year, but things we will use. But, how do I know how much of what? If I can figure out my scanner, I'll show you my crazy tally sheets next time.

14 October 2010

Living off of food storage: addicted to canning

Have you ever felt addicted to canning?

Two years ago, I had the sudden urge to fill the shelves. We -my mother, two sisters and I- canned over 700 jars of everything. Jams, currant syrup, beets, tomatoes, soup, salsa, chili sauce, apples, applesauce, spaghetti sauce, peaches, pears, raspberries, apricots. We kept finding new recipes to try. Green tomatoes were used in relish, taco sauce and jam. We filled everyone's shelves, passing the goods between my brother, my four sisters, my mother and even my grandma.

Last year was the same. We did over 900 jars. People in the area started bringing us all their old, unused jars because we were begging for them. I felt kind of silly overstocking like that. It's not like we needed 50 jars of spaghetti sauce. I couldn't explain it though, I just had to fill those jars. Then I started to get an idea of why I felt so inspired to can.

Around this time last year, it became apparent to us that we were going to have to move in order for my husband to finish his degree at a university. That meant leaving the cheap rent of my parent's place and finding an apartment that could fit our family. It also meant that our income would be very small, if anything. We tried to save up money, but hubby's hours were unreliable and we were expecting our third child. Seeing that money was going to be short, I decided to store up as much food as possible and live off of that storage for the coming school year.

This year, with the move and getting settled, I didn't really can anything. I just didn't have the time or the tools. My shelves are still full though. There were still plenty of canned goods for us to bring with us as part of our year supply. I don't know if those years of canning will get us all the way through school, but they should get us through this year at least.

Now we've started living off of that supply, and the experiment has begun. The canned goods are just a part of our storage, but I think I've written enough to bore you for one post.
I'll write more about our preparations for surviving college tomorrow... or maybe Monday. There's no school tomorrow, so my schedule will be shot.

12 October 2010

Bread success!

As my husband can attest, I have had many failures in my bread making career. They taste okay, but look absolutely horrible or, they look okay, but have crazy textures. I have at least 25 different wheat bread recipes that I have gathered and I have been making my way through them. This one seemed way too simple to be that impressive and called for olive oil, which seemed funny to me. I never considered putting olive oil in bread. I have to say, though, this is my favorite recipe yet. My husband has requested this one over and over. I think the extra gluten flour holds it together, so it doesn't get crumbly. I tried it once without the olive oil and it was just not as good. Here is the recipe:

Whole Wheat Bread
makes 2 loaves
2 cups warm water
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbs yeast
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup wheat gluten
5-7 cups wheat flour

Combine water, honey and yeast and let proof. Add oil, salt, gluten, and 3-4 cups flour. Continue to add more flour until the dough does not feel sticky to the touch. Knead for 10-15 minutes by hand. (less if you have a mixer, you lucky dog) Let it rise once until doubled in size. (this is hard for me. I'm so impatient) Punch down and form into two loaves. Let rise in warm oven until 1/2 inch above pan. Turn oven on to 350 (leave loaves in) and bake for 30 minutes.

11 October 2010

Sagebrush Country Fiber Arts Revival

That's where I was Saturday. My sister has long been into wool and spinning and making things, so when I mentioned my interest in learning the whole process, she was very excited to share her supplies and tools for this event.

It was so fun to see all the ladies with their spinning wheels and the yarns they dyed and spun themselves.

My husband loved these colors. We watched her spin this basket of roving into thread.

Alpaca fibers. The lady at this booth was so helpful and nice.

She taught me to use these wicked combs to get the fibers somewhat workable. Yes they are sharp and yes I did make myself bleed a little.

Then she showed me how to use a drop spindle. It's a bit more time consuming than using a foot powered wheel, but with my little ones, and our general lack of space, this is ideal for spinning. I can easily put it up and away when I'm not using it.

I can't believe I left without a picture of a spinning wheel or a loom. I wanted to learn to use a spinning wheel, but I just didn't have the time and I wouldn't be able to apply the knowledge right now anyway. That still has to be a future goal.

07 October 2010

Bye mom! I love you!

I didn't cry when my oldest started kindergarten. Honestly, he didn't give me a chance. He was through the door, backpack hung up and finding his seat before I could even sniffle. I had to chase him down to get a goodbye kiss. But he did make me tear up last week as I saw him to the door. He was running up the sidewalk, when he suddenly stopped, whipped around and yelled, "Bye mom, I love you!"
What a sweetie. He knows how to melt my heart.
I'm storing this memory for later when it will not only be un-cool to say such things in front of classmates, but it will also be mortifying to even be seen with mom.