Apr 18, 2015

Weekend Links

* I'm opening with this link about mothering in the Internet age because I love, love, love it!

* Not one but TWO baby food recalls: Heinz chicken with broth recalled due to bad seals which could result in dangerously spoiled food - and Beach Nut baby food due to the possibility of glass in jars.

* "In a new study done over ten years and sampling 60,000 women, it was shown that women who drink two or more diet drinks a day have much higher cardiovascular disease rates and are more likely to die from the disease."

* THIS is the ultimate rhubarb recipe! A perfect blend of tart and sweet. Gonna make it for Mother's Day.

* QUICK TIP: When making a graham cracker crust, you don't need to mix the crumbs, sugar, and butter in a separate bowl. Just dump them into the pie plate, stir to blend, then press into place. One less bowl to wash is always a good thing!

* File away under things you never thought were possible: Your backyard hen could transform into a rooster!

* Cute ideas for upcycling used cribs.


Apr 17, 2015

The Easy Way We Save Thousands Each Year

I admit it. I'm shocked and amazed to hear what most people spend on television. We're often talking hundreds of dollar per month - thousands per year. For television, people.

How much do we spend on TV at my house? $7.99 a month.

That's because we long ago ditched cable or satellite and bought a Roku device. The Roku is a small box (about 3.5 in. square) that connects your television to internet TV. The Roku itself costs about $60 - $100 (depending upon which version you get; we have Roku 3, which Amazon sells for about $85)...and almost all of the channels we have are free. Yes, free! Some of our favorite free channels include The History Channel, A&E, The Smithsonian Channel, and PBS Kids.

In addition, there are many Roku channels available for purchase. A great many are under $5. We only have one paid channel: Netflix. It costs $7.99 a month. But there are hundreds more channels to choose from, many of which are only available through a streaming service. There are channels just for those who love to cook, or love to hunt, or want to learn to garden. There are Christian channels, classic tv channels, classic movie channels, and radio channels. A friend of mine has a child who wants to learn French. She found a Roku channel that teaches French for only 99 cents a year. You can bet she was more than happy to pay it!

True, streaming is bit different from regular television. For one, there are often no commercials! For another, there isn't quite the selection you get through cable or satellite. (Although more channels are added regularly.) Many of the free channels are the same as the websites cable channels have. For example, The History Channel website is essentially the same as The History Channel on Roku. So some episodes are free to watch right away, while others you might have to wait weeks (sometimes months) to watch. No matter; we can always manage to find something decent to watch through our Roku.

Pros to Streaming with a Roku:

* Commercials are rare. (We only have them on free channels, and even then, usually only during peak hours. Also, there's typically only one commercial during a commercial break. There are no commercials on Netflix.)

* You can watch whenever you like; you don't have to wait a certain hour for a show to air.

* You can binge watch. Love a show? You can watch as many episodes as are available, all at once. Ha!

* There's lots of content. Through the Roku, you can get Netflix, Hulu Plus, NBA, NHL Game Center, EPIX, Amazon Instant Video,Vudu, CNBC, The Blaze, FOX News, NBC News, and so, so much more.

* It's so inexpensive!

* Did I mention how cheap it is??

Cons to Streaming with Roku:

* Streaming is not a good choice if you have a very slow internet connection.

* If your internet service has limits on bandwidth, watch out! Streaming takes a lot of bandwidth.

* If your internet connection goes out, so does your tv.

* You may not be able to watch all the shows you want; you may have to wait for the latest episodes of TV shows.

But, for us, the cost difference is so HUGE it utterly and completely outweighs any cons. What about you?


Apr 15, 2015

10 Spring Cleaning Tips

Spring cleaning is the time to tackle projects you otherwise might not think of...but as the spring sun begins to shine through your windows, become more noticeable. Every house is different, but here are my top spring cleaning projects. See which ones you need to add to your list, too.

1. Clean the baseboards. Especially if you have pets or kids (or both!), baseboards can get surprisingly yucky. The easiest way to clean them is with a Magic Eraser and a little water. I put warm water in a bowl, wet the Eraser, scrub, then clean the Eraser in the warm water.

2. Clean windowsills. Again, a Magic Eraser and water makes this job a breeze.

3. Clean the molding around doors. Don't forget the tippy top! I like my Magic Erasers here, too. But assuming you don't want to use Magic Erasers for this or any other job, the next best thing is a sponge with a scrubby side and some Windex.

4. Shampoo the carpets.

5. Vacuum all the furniture, and shampoo it, too, if needed.

6. Actually, vacuum everything. I use my vacuum on the walls, ceilings, welcome mat...For tips on using the vacuum to clean much of your house, click here.

7. Clean all appliances. Wipe them down with Windex and towels (or a scrubby sponge if they are really dirty), inside and out, paying special attention to seals, edges around doors, and the backs.

8. Clean the disposal and sink. Really, the disposal should be de-stinkified as needed and the sink sanitized every day. (The kitchen sink is one of the germiest place in your house!) To clean the disposal, take a fresh lemon of two, cut them in half, and feed them to the disposal one by one. Afterward, give the sink an extra good clean. I like to spray it with Windex, then scrub with a sponge. If the sink is stainless steel, use the scrubby side of the sponge, or a Brillo pad, to make it sparkle.

9. Wash walls and ceilings, if needed. I love to use mop to do this; learn more about my method here.

10. Clean refrigerator and freezer coils. To keep these appliances running smoothly and as efficiently as possible, you should clean the coils once a year. Unplug the appliance (the food will be fine as long as you keep the door closed) and vacuum away using a brush attachment. (Don't have a brush attachment? Use your vacuum's wand with one hand, and a stiff cleaning brush with the other.)

Apr 13, 2015

Helping Dawdlers Notice Time Pass

I've written before about helping dawdlers...That's because my daughter is the dawdler of all dawdlers. Seriously.

All the tips I previously shared worked to a certain extent, yet my dear girl is still a Dawdler Supreme. But here's a tool that's been helpful that I haven't mentioned previously: Using a timer.

No, no, I'm not talking about saying, "Okay, you have 10 minutes to brush your teeth. I'm setting the timer now. Go!"

That sometimes works for my dawdler, but often it just gets her stressed out. And if she's busy being stressed out, she's not doing whatever else she needs to do.

Instead, what I've found is more helpful is to get her started with whatever job she needs to get done, then set the timer for, say, 10 minutes - telling her that this is only to help her feel time passing. When the 10 minutes have passed, I have her evaluate what she's accomplished, if anything. Then I set the timer for another 10 minutes...and so on.

When I use this method, I no longer hear things like, "It can't possibly be time to leave yet! Only a minute has passed!" I don't believe that when my daughter says such things they are an exaggeration. I think that's how the passage of time really feels to her. We often say that our dear daughter just has a different internal clock. By using this method of noting how time passes, we are helping her to adjust her internal clock to become more inline with the rest of the world.

Is this a quick fix? Nope. But it does help her...and I think that over time this method will be a good chunk of the answer to reducing her dawdling time.

Apr 11, 2015

Weekend Links

Only a couple of weeks into Weekend Links and I'm already behind! I had a rough week, but am trying to catch up. Here's some of the info I shared with this blog's Facebook followers over the last two weeks.

* Remember when I blogged about why we don't use non-stick cookware? Well, I just ran across this post from Kitchen Stewardship. It's a review for an air purifier, but what caught my attention was how bonkers the purifier went when this lady used her non-stick cookware. Yikes.

* This easy recipe has become a family favorite. We have it for dinner sometimes, in addition to breakfast.

* What I Learned After Taking a Homeless Mother Grocery Shopping.

* Wanna win a year's supply of chicken (160 lbs)? Check this out: https://godirectfoods.com/register/41430d155

* QUICK TIP: According to the experts at King Arthur Flour, you can make your homemade sourdough bread more tangy by letting the loaf rest in the refrigerator overnight.

* "There is no longer any valid basis for the current salt guidelines." Worse - government guidelines for salt may be a threat to health...because they recommend too little.

* Enchiladas an are easy, inexpensive, filling meal. They are also easy to make in large batches, so you can freeze some for later. Here's a recipe we love: Cook chicken breasts (I like to boil them), then shred. Cook some rice and add chicken flavoring (you can base your flavorings on this recipe: http://www.bigbearswife.com/…/homemade-chicken-rice-roni.ht… ). Stir together. Add about a pint of corn kernels, and some shredded Cheddar. Saute an onion and stir that in, too. Fill corn or flour tortillas with the mixture, pour green or red enchilada sauce over them, and sprinkle with a little more cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F., or until heated through. Recipe courtesy of my big sis.

* Lots of religions and philosophers tout the Golden Rule. What makes Jesus' command different?


Apr 9, 2015

Simple Pickled Asparagus

Asparagus is one of spring's most prized foods. But really good, fresh asparagus is also fleeting - gone with spring. You can freeze or pressure can asparagus, but for many of us, the flavor and texture are ruined by doing so. The one way to preserve asparagus that my whole family can agree on is through pickling.

There are about a gazillion recipes for pickled asparagus, some with ingredient lists a mile long. This recipe, though, is simple - as well as flexible. And, unlike some recipes, it doesn't cover up the flavor of asparagus.

In truth, all you really need for this recipe is the asparagus, vinegar, salt, water, and sugar. But that would make for pretty plain-tasting pickles. So I also use garlic, mustard seed, and dill seed - and, if I have some lemons on hand, a little lemon. Simple and delicious. But you should feel free to play with the spices; as long as you keep the correct ratio of water, vinegar, and salt, the recipe will remain safe.

Also, a note about the asparagus: Get the freshest you can find. Just picked from your yard, or picked the day before and purchased at a farmer's market is ideal. But, if you're like me and you don't have an asparagus patch (yet!), or can't buy just-picked asparagus, grocery store asparagus will do, especially if you follow the directions for chilling the asparagus ahead of time.

And, incidentally, pickled asparagus is one canning project that really can save you money. Store bought pickled asparagus is something of a luxury item. I've seen it sell for over $30 a jar! So grab your asparagus during a good sale (or grow it yourself), and you'll save your family some dough while also giving them a really yummy treat.

Simple Pickled Asparagus Recipe

7 lbs. fresh asparagus
1 2/3 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon canning or pickling salt
8 cups water
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 lemon, peeled, sections divided into slices, and seeds pushed out
6 teaspoons mustard seed, divided
6 teaspoons dill seed, divided

1. Begin by reviewing the guidelines for using a boiling water bath canner.

2. Trim the tough ends off each asparagus spear. An easy way to do this is to flick the knife down onto the spear, steering well clear of your fingers and beginning at the cut end of the vegetable. If you're in a tough part of the asparagus, the knife won't cut all the way through. Keep flicking at intervals on the tough end of the veggie until the knife cuts through easily. Discard the tough ends into your compost bin, or freeze them to use for making stock.

3. Cut the asparagus so that it will easily fit into your canning jars and still leave 3/4 in. headspace. If you use pint and a half canning jars, you'll be able to can nice long spears. If you use pint jars, as I do, you will have to cut smaller spears and will have some pieces without spears on them. Save even the short ends for pickling. They may not be as elegant as the spears, but they are still tasty!

4. Place the asparagus pieces in a large bowl. Add 4 handfuls of ice and cover with cold water. Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. In the meantime, prepare the canning jars and lids.

5. In a large, stainless steel pot, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and water. Place over medium high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 5 minutes.

6. Using your hands, tongs, or a slotted spoon, transfer the chilled asparagus to the hot vinegar mixture. (Discard the ice water.) Allow the mixture to come to a boil and boil gently for 2 minutes to heat the asparagus through.

7. Work one hot jar at a time: Add 1 teaspoon mustard seed and 1 teaspoon dill seed to the jar. Using tongs, add hot asparagus to the jar. Spears may point either up or down, but not side-to-side. When jar is nearly packed, add 1 garlic clove and 1 slice of lemon. Add more asparagus spears until the jar is packed. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 in. headspace. Bubble jar, wipe rim, and add lid and screw band. Place in canner and move on to another jar.

8. Process jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.*  Wait at least 2 weeks before eating.

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Apr 1, 2015

Fermented Jerusalem Artichokes

My family loves Jerusalem artichokes - a lesser-known veggie that looks like the potato's ugly cousin. But my husband finds, as some people do, that they live up to their sometimes-heard nickname: Jerusalem fartichokes. Yes, it's true. Jerusalem artichokes are healthy and nutritious...but they cause gas in some people. There are ways around this; mainly, parboiling the vegetable before fully cooking it and making sure you only eat the vegetable after it's lived through a good, hard frost. The other, however, is through lacto-fermentation. (Not familiar with the health benefits of fermentation? Read this.)

Since my family loves the fermented sauerkraut I make, I'm becoming more confident about trying fermented foods. So when I bumped into this post over at A Gardener's Table, I knew I had to give fermented Jerusalem artichokes a try. I'm so glad I did. They are DEEliscious! We ate a ton of them (so yummy!), and my children and I had no issues with gas. My hubby wasn't sure if he could call these Jerusalem artichokes gas free...but trust me, he was not having issues like he normally does with this vegetable! Any flatulence was, in his wife's opinion, like any other day.

My recipe is slightly adapted from A Gardener's Table. Mainly, I used dried spices, because that's what I had on hand. Also, sadly my husband is not a fan of ginger, so I used a much smaller amount of this ingredient. But the truth is, even though I love this spice combo, you could use whatever spices you want - or no spices at all. To ferment this veggie, all you really need is the salt, sugar, and water brine.

Fermented Jerusalem Artichoke Recipe

1 1/2 lbs. of Jerusalem artichokes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons uniodized salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups filtered water (water with chlorine in it inhibits fermentation)

1. Begin by sanitizing everything you'll use, including the fermenting jar, whatever you'll use as a weight, the cutting board, knife, and any utensils. It's fine to just run them through the dishwasher.

2. Cut up the Jerusalem artichokes. I like them best when sliced in thinish circles, like a cucumber pickle. But you'll probably have to do some chunks, too, due to the vegetable's odd-ball shape. Just be sure the pieces are of about the same size, and no larger than 1/2 in.

3. In a bowl, combine the turmeric, nutmeg, cumin, and garlic. Add the prepared Jerusalem artichoke and toss until well coated. Pack into a glass jar with a 6 cup capacity. (I used a gallon sized canning jar.)

4. Measure out the water and add the salt and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Pour this brine over the Jerusalem artichokes.

5. Weigh down the Jerusalem artichokes. I used a jelly jar filled with marbles, but anything that easily fits into the jar and push down hard on the vegetable pieces should work fine. Press down firmly and try to pack the Jerusalem artichoke pieces down as much as possible. Leave the weight in place, and cover the jar with cheesecloth or a cotton dishtowel held in place with a rubber band or string. Leave the jar on the counter in a relatively warm (not hot or cold) place.
6. The following day, the brine should fully cover the vegetable pieces. All the pieces must be underwater, or they will rot instead of ferment. If necessary, make more brine (using the same ratio you used the day before) and add it to the jar.

7. Now it's a waiting game. I found the mixture didn't bubble or burp much. It turns out, some fermenting vegetables do this more than others. But do check at least once a day to be sure the veggies are submerged, that the mixture doesn't smell bad, or that mold isn't growing on it. I tasted the mixture after seven days, and it seemed just right. Depending upon the weather and the atmosphere in your kitchen it could take a little more or less time for the 'chokes to ferment. How do you know it's done? When it tastes good to you! When you're satisfied with the flavor, remove the cover and weight, put a lid on the jar, and transfer to the refrigerator.

Mar 30, 2015

What's The Difference Between Mulch and Compost?

Here's a question I frequently hear: Mulch vs. compost...What's the difference?

Mulch Is...

Mulch is anything that is laid on the ground around plants in order to retain moisture in the soil and prevent weed seeds from seeing the sun. Mulch also helps keep the soil warmer, which is especially useful in the spring, fall, and winter.

Examples of mulch include landscaping fabric and plastic (usually black, but sometimes other colors; red is popular around peppers and tomatoes, since it warms the soil better than other colors). Organic mulches have the added benefit of feeding the soil and giving it nutrients as it decomposes. Examples of organic mulch include straw, wood chips, grass clippings, leaves, and yes, compost.

Compost Is...

Compost is made from organic matter (such as vegetable and fruit leftovers, leaves, and paper products) that has decomposed. Finished compost looks like black or dark brown soil. It's usually tilled or dug into the soil (or used as a layer in lasagna gardening) in order to add nutrients to the dirt.

When is used as mulch, it may help block sunlight from weed seeds, but it doesn't do a very good job of retaining moisture in the soil. Also, just tossing compost on top of the soil, without working it in or covering it with some other type of mulch, means much of the nutrients in the compost aren't readily available to plants.

How to Mulch

Lay down your choice of mulch (I recommend organic mulch, since it feeds the soil and attracts worms who aerate the soil...and who poop, adding excellent nutrients to the soil) around plants, or on any bare soil. The mulch should not touch plant stems, or the stems become susceptible to rot and disease. The thicker the layer of mulch, the more it helps retain water and prevent weeds.

Sometimes mulch is also used to protect plants that are being overwintered. For example, in many places in the U.S., you can keep carrots, parsnips, and beets in the soil over winter. If you get snow, it's best to cover the crop with a thick layer of straw or other mulch - at least seven inches of it. The tops of the root crops will die, but the mulch prevents the edible root from going bad.

How to Compost

In essence, toss fruit and vegetable scraps, thin layers of grass clippings, thin layers of shredded grass, weeds (that haven't gone to seed), and paper products (large ones shredded) into a pile. Everything will decompose and turn into compost.

For details on the fastest ways to get compost, please read my post "Composting the Easy, Cheap Way."