21 March 2011

Renewed garden hopes

Happy Spring!  There are crocuses blooming in the front yard!  I know this because my son picked one... every year we go through the "don't pick other people's flowers" routine.  One day he will get it.  Maybe.  He's so cute when he brings me flowers though.  We'll have to plant a few flowers just for him to pick.  That would be fun, don't you think?

I took the opportunity to spring clean my car today.  It had an entire winter's worth of garbage and toys and crayons in it.  My husband kept asking me if we could clean out the car one of these days.  "Of course!",  I say, "I'm tired of the tire changing stuff being under my feet!"  I think I finally got the message that by we he means me.  So there I was, head down, bottom up, digging the insane amount of trash out from under my son's seat and explaining to my daughter where to put the pop cans that she found.  Then my landlady opened her garage and needed to drive past, which meant that the laundry basket bursting with random gloves, toys, etc, and the grocery bags stuffed with trash needed to be moved.  It's embarrassing for me to know that other people know how messy I really am, so I tried to not make eye contact.  She stopped to talk anyway.

Are we going to renew our rent contract?  Yes, I think so, I say as I try to gather as much garbage as possible right there where she can see.  Then there's a little chit chat about her grandkids, power bills and new sprinkler systems and then she says, "Would you like to put in some square food gardens by the fence?"  She has seen me out there, looking over my pitiful little garden plot.  Eyes come up..."YES!"  She also informs me that the planters around the edge of the patio are fair game as well.  It's shady, but I think I can figure out a few shady plants to put there.

It turns out that my landlady used to square foot garden herself. (not at this house unfortunately)  I should have asked a few more specifics about what she has pictured, or how many boxes I can do, but I have to have such questions working in my brain for a few days at least in order to actually ask a worthwhile question to anyone, and I definitely could not form any sort of question while I sat on the floor of my mini van trying to get that yellow colored pencil out from under the edge of the chair.  No worries though.  She offered me some videos that she has about this gardening method, so I have a little time to prepare for another garden discussion.  Remind me to ask how far down the fence we can go.

I'm so excited!  As it was, my plot was 11 feet by 1.5 feet.  Not a lot of space to grow tons of veggies like I want to do.  I'm not a pro at square foot gardening, but I'm sure I can figure something out.    And now the garden planning gets to start all over again!  Too bad I have to wait for my winter sowing bottles to sprout before I know how much of what I will have.  That would make planning a bit easier.  But I guess I can pass the time by figuring out how to get some gardening boxes going. 

19 March 2011

A refined palate

Rocks, leaves, grass, dirt, sticks... all things that a one year old loves to eat.  Why do I try to share my food with her?  Or stress about her getting enough fruits and veggies?  All she wants to eat is bird poop from the yard!

She is loving being outside though.  We spent quite a bit of time wandering around, her sampling everything and me trying to convince her to stop doing that.  Finally, she was content to just carry some rocks around.

I have one more spinach sprout.  That's how desperate I am for spring, I'm giving you updates on each measly little spinach plant.  Just one more week, and I think it'll be time to plant some peas!  I'm used to getting things started really early in order to get any kind of harvest at all, so I'm antsy for things to get going.  I feel kind of silly though, since none of the neighbors have even started looking at their garden plots yet.  They probably think I'm crazy, lining up re-purposed 2-liter pop bottles against the fence, and peeking in through the spout everyday. 

Photo by Terry Sohl

I did do a little research on my "chickens".  Turns out they are called ringneck pheasants and they are not native to America.  They somehow got here from China and made themselves right at home.  The females only lay eggs in the spring, and they will lay up to 20, then sit until they hatch.  Their life expectancy is only 10-20 months, perhaps due to the fact that humans like to shoot them and eat them.  So, they might not be the best laying hens to have around.  I don't really want 200 fertilized eggs in April, and then none the rest of the year.  Besides, it sounds like they need all the baby chicks they can get!

17 March 2011

Spring, is it really here?

I love spring, when 44 degrees feels like t-shirt weather.  It feels so nice out, I just had to get outside for a bit today.  My winter sowing experiment has at least yielded a few sprouts.  Apparently, mustard greens are the hardiest of the seeds I planted, with one little spinach sprout following after.  It gives me hope for my other seeds at least.  The kids and I played in the dirt today a bit, planting some lettuce and carrots.  They love to garden and their eyes lit up when I pulled out their garden bags from last year.  They got their own hand tools for Easter and somehow, they didn't all get lost.  Their gloves are a different story. 
mustard greens

The wonderful weather inspired me to take a stroll with the baby, something that hasn't happened since the fall.  Not too many other signs of spring around.  There are still little piles of snow here and there and lots of mud.  I did see some plants pushing up through the mud.  Maybe spring really is here to stay.  This is my first spring in this area, so I really don't know what to expect.  Everyone here makes it sound like spring is pretty tough.  I don't think they know what "tough" is.  My hometown got another winter storm yesterday, and they still have a few feet of snow in the yard.  If this is tough, I'll take it.

I wasn't quick enough to catch a picture of a wild rooster that was in the neighbors garden.  He flew up on top of her house and ran out of sight.  He and another rooster or two hang out in the pine tree in the yard.  I've seen a bunch of hens hiding out under a neighbors pine tree, under the low hanging branches.  They sure make a racket when they take off.  I wondered out loud to my husband if they would start laying eggs anytime soon.  We can't keep any chickens here, since we're renting, so I thought maybe I'd "domesticate" the wild chickens that are everywhere.  When he finished looking at me like I was crazy, he decided it is probably illegal.  I should look into it I suppose.  Wouldn't that be a fun way to keep backyard chickens?

16 March 2011

French bread and sort of, but not really, Lasagna

I haven't been too exciting on baking day lately.  It's all I can do to get some bread baked for the week, but since I had made some lasagna for dinner, I thought something different would be nice to go with it.  It's my first time trying french bread and I think it turned out pretty well.  The kids loved it, especially with nutella spread on it.  We ate the first loaf before it was completely cooled, and the second loaf disappeared with our dinner.  There have been a few requests for more already.

It is a slightly more complicated process than regular bread due to the egg, or I should say, the separation of the egg.  Once that's done though, it's pretty simple.  Although, with the yolk mixed into the dry ingredients, it looked kind of strange when I dumped the water in.  Suddenly, the bits of yolk showed up so well, that I was afraid the water was too hot and had cooked it!  But, as it turned out, everything was fine and there were no cooked egg yolk chunks in our bread. 

Our lasagna wasn't really lasagna in the traditional sense, in fact, it probably has a name that I'm not aware of.  I'm hesitant to ever make lasagna, because I never have actual lasagna noodles around, or ricotta cheese for that matter, but spaghetti was getting a bit repetitive, so I decided to use what I had on hand to make a pasta casserole of sorts.  I have lots and lots of macaroni style noodles and a container of cottage cheese that needed used.  Not knowing how much pasta to cook, (I always cook too much or too little, never just right) I made way too many macaroni noodles.  No worries though.  The kids love plain noodles.  I'm set for lunches for the rest of the week.  The family loved my lasagna creation, so I thought I'd share my recipe here.

Use whatever you have Lasagna
Some kind of pasta (maybe 8 oz?)
Jar of pasta sauce (I used my home canned stuff)
Cottage cheese that is coming close to the expiration date (of course if you actually have ricotta, use that)
Parmesan cheese
Lots of shredded cheese (I used a mix of mozzarella and monterey jack)
Dried parsley

Cook the pasta until al dente.  Mix cottage cheese, parmesan and some parsley flakes. (I totally forgot the parsley till the end, so I just sprinkled some on top.)  Put a little sauce on the bottom of the pan and put a layer of noodles on top.  Then layer on the cottage cheese mixture, followed by shredded cheese, and then sauce.  Repeat as many times as possible.  The macaroni noodles take up more space than lasagna noodles, so I was only able to do two layers.  Top the whole thing with more shredded cheese and bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.  Let cool a bit and serve with some fresh french bread. 

*Food Storage application:  While the noodles, sauce and parsley all came from my year's supply of food, this meal can't technically be a "food storage" meal because of all the cheeses.  Someday, when I have my own milk cow and I am making and storing cheeses, I'll be able to do it without any dependence on the grocery store.

14 March 2011

Beware the ...birthday of March!

I've been lazy lately.  Perhaps it's the ides of March... or maybe I'm just lazy. 

I had a birthday.  Actually, I've had many birthdays.  31 to be exact, or is it 32?  I did have a birth day on the day I was born, right?  Anyway, I'm 31 years old now.  I have to say that turning 31 wasn't nearly so traumatic as turning 30.  I guess I've come to terms with my gray hairs. 

I made the mistake of being honest when my kids asked how old I am now.  In their eyes, it's cool to be so old and they have been telling anyone that will listen just how old I am.  Thanks kids.

My sister was thoughtful enough to make me a nice chocolate cake, and I think she kind of hinted that it would be nice to not have to make her own cake when her day rolls around again.  Remind me in September, would you? 

I think it kind of bothered my kids that I wasn't planning a birthday bash.  My kindergarten son has now been introduced to the theme birthdays, complete with games and party favors, and he thinks I should be doing the same.  He even offered to invite some of his buddies over for my party.  Just what I want for my birthday, a bunch of sugar jazzed six year old boys tearing my house apart.  No thank you.  I would like a half hour to myself to just sit in my room and do whatever.  Read a magazine... doodle garden plans... stare out the window...

Instead, my son gave me ten pennies, my daughter gave me a hug and kiss (several times over) and they both wrote me letters and cards, with my help of course.  The husband, he brought me flowers... tulips, which I love.  He also gave me a giant container of nutella, which I also love.  On top of that, he gave me two, that's right, two cards.  That's how much he loves me.  I was wondering what took him so long at the store.  Now I know, he was reading cards and I have to say, the gushy one he picked was perfect.  I hope he actually read it.  I know guys that just grab the flowery-est card they see and slap their name on it.  I do know that he read the humorous one. 

All things considered, it was a good birthday.

08 March 2011

What's that recipe?

I can't find a recipe.  I know I made it once, and it was liked by the family.  I forgot all about it until today when someone mentioned something similar.  I would like to make it again.  The only problem?  I can't for the life of me remember where I saw the recipe, or even what it's called.

I pop around blogland, and recipe sites, reading and trying out recipes.  It could have been from any number of sites.  Usually, if we liked it, I print out the recipe to save.  I didn't.  That makes me think it might be in an actual cook book on my shelf, but which one?  I'm flipping through the third one right now.

I want to say that they are called chicken dumplings, or something similar, but when I search that, all I get are a million chicken AND dumplings recipes and it isn't that.  What I'm thinking of is a chicken, mushroom and cream cheese mix, placed into a biscuit and baked.  We had a sort of gravy to pour over the top.    Maybe they're called chicken pastries?  Does that sound familiar to anyone? 

This whole thing came up today as I was planning a meal with another woman.  We are taking dinner to a woman in the neighborhood that is pregnant with twins(!) and just doesn't feel like cooking for her family with the morning sickness and all that.  Poor lady.  So my job is to come up with a side or two to go with a chicken dish kind of like the one I described.   No problem.  I'm thinking a pasta salad, a loaf of bread and some cookies.  I have some casseroles and such in the freezer that I'll take to her as well.  That way, she can tell her husband to shove something in the oven and let her rest.

Her meal is all taken care of, but now I'm driving myself crazy trying to remember what the chicken dish was called and where I first saw it.  Does this happen to anyone else, or am I the only one that forgets things as soon as I can't see them anymore?  I will try to remember to ask the other lady the next time I see her, but you know I'll forget.

04 March 2011

Bunco à la mode

Late yesterday morning, my inspiration finally hit.  I had pie dough in the freezer and canned apple pie filling in the pantry... and I wanted to make pie. 

Only after the dough was defrosted did I look in my cupboard for the tins.  I discovered that I left my pie tins were left at my mom's house after Thanksgiving. Thankfully, I still had one smallish tin left here, so the pie making commenced.  Because the pie was so small, I had plenty of ingredients left to make some little tarts.  I guess that's what to call them.  I used my Easter flower cookie cutter to make some springy treats.  I saw something similar around blogland for Valentines Day and I thought I'd give it a try. 

I think they turned out great.  They are mostly crust due to all those petals, which I love.  That's honestly my favorite part of pie.  My kids were very disappointed that I would be taking them with me to share with a bunch of other ladies.  Won't they be happy to see that there are a few left for them?

I thought I was all prepared for the evening.  Treats and pie prize were ready, dinner was in the works, the baby was getting sleepy... and then, my husband's boss called and needed his assistance.  So much for my baby sitter.  I hate scrambling for a sitter at the last minute.  In fact, I hate calling a sitter in the first place.  Phone calls make me panicky.  If I hadn't already promised to be there, and known that there needs to be that certain number of people for the game to work, I would have just stayed home to avoid that phone call. 

I made my husband call.  It's sort of his fault, right?
Bunco was interesting.  Nobody there could really remember exactly how to play.  Most of the women had played before, many years before, so there were a lot of ideas of how it should go.  I know that there were lots of ideas because part of the game is to switch tables after each round, and each table was playing a little different.  The rules kind of morphed as we played.  I think we may have finally figured it out about the time that the game ended.  The next time we get together, maybe it will go more smoothly.  Maybe I'll have a back up baby sitter on speed dial.  Maybe not.

02 March 2011

Stunted creativity

I have been invited to a ladies night with some women from the neighborhood.  They're planning on playing some games and talking a lot.  It sounded like fun, so I said I would love to take part.  Then the person inviting me informed me that I need to bring some goodies to share and a prize worth about $5.  Hmmmm.  I was sure that my mind would come up with some fun ideas for each of those categories, but it hasn't.  The get together is tomorrow night and here I sit without so much as a cookie in the house.  Unless I want to take microwave popcorn for both treat and prize, I need to get some creativity going.  I suppose the creative juices are being stunted by my desire to not go to the store yet again this week.  So I must work with what I have in the house. 

For the treat I do have some ideas.  I could make some more caramel popcorn balls, or granola bars, or some oatmeal cookies, but I'm sure there will be plenty of sweets there already.  I haven't been in the mood for sweets lately, so I'm trying to come up with something else.  Maybe a dip of some kind?  But what would I dip in it?  I would like to make some pretzels, but I've never made them before and I'm a little worried about trying something new on a bunch of women I barely know. 

Then there's the prize.  I have an etch a sketch in my closet that I picked up on sale somewhere.  It's just waiting for some little boys birthday.  Not sure grown women would get such a kick out of it.  I have plenty of canned goods... spaghetti sauce anyone?  Raspberry jam with some bread?  I might have to break down and go to the store, but then what do I get?  I'll be lost forever, wandering the isles... do other women like dish soap?  A 2 liter of soda?  String cheese?  Lotion?  Socks?  Chapstick?  Yup, my creativity is definitely stunted tonight.  Maybe I'll sleep on it and have some inspiration tomorrow.

01 March 2011

A few giveaways

Just passing on the information.

 Resweater is giving away the book, "Resew" by Jenny Wilding Cardon.  She finds things at thrift stores and makes them into usable things.  I like that.  It's something I would like to do more, but I don't get great inspiration while standing in the thrift store, so I think I could really use this book.  It sounds like she's doing a giveaway every day at several different blogs, so there's lots of chances to win!

Homestead Revival is giving a way a great filing system.  As I sit here at my desk, I am in danger of being buried by a paper avalanche, so I'm hoping I win it.  It's a JOYS (just organize your stuff) system and it looks promising.  I do like her approach to getting the paper piles under control.  Three files.  Action, File, Use.  Very simple.  I like simple. 

Go enter up if you're interested, and good luck!