Rosey the Riveter

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Musings

This was the first year that I cooked a fresh turkey.  So fresh, that it was warm when I picked it up at the farm.  As I was picking over the carcass after Thanksgiving, I came to the conclusion that there are only two things I dislike more than that very unpleasant task:  Chuck E Cheese and Black Friday.  Ergo, next year I have decided to just cook a turkey breast.  And it will be in the crock-pot, so I don't have to play the "How are we going to cook the rolls and the greenbean casserole with a turkey in the oven" game. 

Truth be told, I didn't notice any difference in taste, either, between the usual (cheap and inhumanely treated) supermarket frozen turkey and the (much more expensive, local) farm-raised turkey.  I can definitely tell the difference when in comes to chicken, so I was a little disappointed.

I've also decided that at some point when I free time (?!?!?!) I am going to put together a Holiday Notebook that holds all of the standard recipes and also a master shopping list for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I can avoid a last-minute trip to the store for the evaporated milk I didn't have in the pantry. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rhubarb and Grapes and Peaches, Oh My!

My box arrived yesterday from Stark Bros.  You know, because I have nothing else going on this week to prepare for Thanksgiving...

In it was a Dwarf Saturn Peach Tree (aka Donut Peach), four Starkrimson Rhubarb crowns, and a Reliance Seedless Grapevine.  (I am listing the varieties here to help my memory later on when I can't remember what they are.)  I chose this rhubarb after much research, because apparently it's really hard to grow here.  (As are lilacs, but I'm determined to grow that, too!)  The grapevine is more of a 'sacrificial' plant... Japanese Beetles really like them and I've heard they'll leave everything else alone if there's a grape they can eat.  However, if we happen to get some grapes to harvest, that will be awesome.  And I knew I wanted some sort of fruit tree... but most take up to 5 years before they start producing.  WE DON'T HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME!  So, I decided on the Saturn peach because I know they grow well here and because they start producing after only two years.

I have no pictures because it's pouring down rain.  I was soaked to the bones after digging and planting, but it's nice to look out the window and see my little tree!  I planted it in the middle of our Butterfly Garden, where a Bradford Pear used to stand.  Thankfully, it blew over in a storm a year or two ago and we didn't have to deal with it (these landscaping trees, which don't produce fruit, tend to rot after about 15-20 years).  Because the peach is a dwarf, it will only spread about 10 feet.

The grape I planted along the side of the garden fence, so it can trellis along that and not be in the way.

The rhubarb was a little trickier.  I know it likes full sun, but I also know that zone 8 afternoon is too much sun.  So I planted two crowns alongside the shed near the garden, and another two alongside the deck.  Both places allow for afternoon shade.  We won't be able to harvest in the spring, as it needs time to get settled... but hopefully after that I'll be able to make some strawberry rhubarb jam (we live right down the road from a Strawberry farm!) and other baked goodies, and may be even use some for barter, since it's not readily available here.  The Starkrimson is supposed to be good into zone 9, so I have high hopes (we are 7b/8a depending on which map you look at.)

Stay tuned.  I'll take some pics when the rain stops (and when the rhubarb actually breaks the surface!!!)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Napkins and Rings

Last weekend, I went to a sewing class sponsored by the Virginia Urban Homesteaders League.  I was hoping I could find out what was wrong with my sewing machine.  Almost 10 years ago, I took lessons and made this quilt while Stephen was deployed.

I also made some rag quilts, which were a lot of fun.  So I can sew, but only straight lines.  But then one kid and then a second came along, and the sewing machine stayed safely tucked away in a closet.

Last winter, I decided I wanted to make a pillowcase dress or two for the girls, and almost tore my hair out.  I couldn't get the sewing machine to stitch right, despite checking everything imaginable.

So, last Sunday I toted out the machine which is still going strong after five moves, and with the help of a wonderful lady whose name I didn't get, we determined that I had the WRONG FOOT on the machine.  It was plastic.  I needed a metal one.

So zippedee do dah, I was able to sew up 8 napkins for Thanksgiving.

But then I saw some really cute burlap napkin rings on Pinterest and decided I wanted some, too.  They were so easy and quick I may have to make more for other holidays!

Step One:  Cut your burlap into strips.  I forgot to measure the size of these, but you can eyeball.

Step Two:  Form a strip into a ring.

Step Three:  Starting from above, start sewing the button on.  Leave a strip hanging for tying later.

Step Four:  Make a couple stitches, then tie off.

Step Five:  Trim


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Apple Cider Vinegar

A few days ago I happened to see this post from hipgirls, and I pinned it so that once I found a good price on organic apples, I could use my applesauce scraps to try making vinegar.  Lo and Behold, $1.49/lb later, I was toting home some Galas and Braeburns and Golden Delicious.

So, I peeled and cored them and threw them in the crock pot for applesauce, and then the real fun began.  Personally, I would only use organic apples for this, since the peels are involved.

I saved all the scraps (I used 10 apples) in my Pfaltzgraff batter bowl.  Don't use a reactive container.

I needed 2 quarts of water mixed with 1/2 c sugar to completely cover the apples.

Cover with cheese cloth to keep out the fruit flies.  (Borrow bungee cord from hubby's tool box.  He won't mind.)

Let it sit at room temperature for a week.  Strain, then continue to ferment for 2 or 3 more weeks (covered, of course) stirring occasionally.  I'll post another update to let you know how it turned out, and how much the family complained because it stunk up the house...

Friday, November 18, 2011


Last year at this time I got a really great price on sugar pumpkins...  50 cents each (the cheapest I've seen so far this year is $1.50 each).  So, naturally, I bought a bunch and decided to preserve them.  Knowing we'd be moving over the summer, I didn't want to just make pumpkin puree and freeze it, only to have to scramble to use it.  I decided to dehydrate it and then grind it up and store in a canning jar.  (7 pumpkins fit into a quart jar!)

A few weeks ago, I finally rehydrated some and made pumpkin icecream out of it.  The girls liked it, but I thought it was barely edible.  There were tiny 'chunks' of pumpkin throughout.  I was devastated.  What if all of my pumpkin-preserving was a waste?  Refusing to give up, I rehydrated another batch and left it in the fridge to get nice and juicy.  There were still small chunks, and even putting it in the blender didn't help.  I decided to try something that would involve cooking the pumpkin, hoping the heat would help.  It did.

I've been wanting to make these 'Starbucks' Pumpkin Scones for awhile, so I decided to finally give them a whirl.  The recipe looks far more complicated than it really is..

This is what they look like, all mixed and cut:
They really puff up a lot while baking:

The icing was thick, so I spread it while the scones were still warm and that helped to smooth it out and make them look pretty.
The last step is the spiced icing. 
If you're going to use the ziploc bag trick to get them to look beautiful, don't use a snack size one.  It oozes everywhere.  Trust me on this one.

I've decided that once my dehydrated pumpkin is used up, I'll be sticking to Libby's... even with the great price on the fresh pumpkins, it's just not worth it... this is one of those rare cases where store-bought trumps homemade (ketchup and Ragu being the only other two I can think of off the top of my head.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not so Sweet on the Sweet Potatoes

So a few weeks ago I bought a 40lb box of organic sweet potatoes from Quail Cove Farms.  After finally acquiring more quart jars (thank you, Craigslist!) I decided it was time to can some of them.  Most places online suggested 17lbs for 7 quarts, so I got out my scale and weighed them up. 

Then I boiled for 15-20 minutes.  This required my two largest pots.  17 pounds is a ton of potatoes!

Next, cool slightly and peel.  (Total pain in the neck!!!!)  At this point, I had enough half way through and decided that was enough.

Cut into equal size pieces (do not mash!) and place into sterilized jars.  I filled six jars with some left-over, so that 17 lb recommendation must have been for teeny-sized cubes.

Add 1 tsp of salt to each jar.  Fill with boiling water, leaving 1" headspace.

Process for NINETY MINUTES.  Yeah, because I have nothing better to do with my time than stand around the kitchen watching that dial.

I started at about 10:30 in the morning, it was after 3 by the time the pressure canner cooled enough for me to take the jars out.

And THEN I had to go back and tackle the other half of the potatoes.  Thankfully, the prep for freezing is the same as canning (boil for 15-20, peel, cube or mash).  So I threw them in Ziplocs and popped them in the freezer.  That'll be less work for me Thanksgiving morning.

The rest of the sweet potatoes went out in the garage (they need to be kept cool, but not cold.  Above 50 degrees is recommended.)  Between the canning, freezing, and cold storage, we should be all set for sweet potatoes for a long time. 

I will never can them again.  What I will do is pop extra in whenever I bake some for dinner, then mash and freeze.  Much less work.  Did I mention this whole process was a pain?  Don't do it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bye Bye Bells

We had a frost warning last night... and although the parsley and oregano and other herbs seem unaffected, the Bell Peppers definitely succumbed.  So I harvested the last of them.  I think the Cayenne has jumped ship, too, but I am going to give it a day or two to recover (no signs of frost in the next week) before I pick the rest of them.  I should have harvested them all and taken the plant in, but it was the last thing I felt like doing.  If it recovers, then I will.  If it doesn't, then it's one less thing for me to nurse this winter.  I think I'd like to try growing Tabasco peppers, instead, just to try something different (and because they are absolutely beautiful.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homemade Tortillas

What to do when there's no meat defrosted and you're too sick to go to the store?  Bulgar Tacos for dinner!

Except, of course, we only had one taco shell left in the house.  I've always wanted to try making my own, so I decided this would be it.

I used this recipe and didn't have any lard, so I used Earth Balance Shortening-Substitute (no hydrogenation).  It was super easy to mix up and knead.
Original directions said to divide into 24 pieces.  I did 16, and then got 2 extras by stealing from the larger balls.
Roll thin and then transfer to skillet.
When they bubble and are golden, turn and cook the other side.
It would have been much easier with a helper, since they only need to cook for a short time and it takes awhile to roll out.  Or, may be roll them all out and stack between layers of wax paper?

I only ended up cooking half of them.  I froze the rest of the balls and am hoping they will be ok next time we have tacos.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November in Zone 7b/8a

Roses, people... we still have roses.  Blooming, Blossoming, Beautiful roses.  In November.  (Can you tell I'm not used to this?  Snowflakes and frost, yes.  Roses, no.)

 The carrots (which I planted late, I think!) are up and I've already thinned them out.

I've harvested most of the broccoli and am now waiting for the side shoots to get big enough to pick.

Mr. Bumblebee is still loving the basil and lavender.  I love knowing he's there to pollinate my treasures.
The Black Swallowtail Cats have found the parsley.  We counted about a dozen, but I think we're down to a handful at this point.  (Look carefully in the center.  You'll see one with it's white stripe.)

The cabbages are just starting to head up, and I had to harvest the first tiny one today.  It was getting decimated by cabbage worms.  Fortunately, the few others I have seem to be faring better.  As with the broccoli, I don't think I planted enough cabbages.  I didn't want an influx, but I might have forgotten they can be left unharvested for awhile.  Or I might have been permanently scarred by Mom's stinky sauerkraut fermenting in the basement...  (love you, Mom!) 

I'm not sure what to expect from the herbs, so I'm dehydrating as many as I can in case they don't last the winter.

I just planted garlic and shallots, which may be a little late but who knows.  I didn't special order any heirloom varieties (most were sold out by the time I got around to looking).  I just bought some at the store and plunked the individual cloves in the ground.  Yes, you can do that.  Which reminds me, the leeks I bought and planted are doing wonderfully.  Need to figure out when/how to harvest them.

And since it's November, best of all the new seed cattys will be here next month and I can start dreaming about my first real garden, with plants that *I* chose and raised.  Until then, I need to go freeze some more bell peppers...

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Official...


It's a beautiful day, sun shining, 65 degrees, and I am sick as a dog.  But I decide that some Vitamin D can't hurt, and I can't spread my germs to anything out in the garden, so off I go.

First thing on the to-do list?  Preparing the Jalapeno for over-wintering inside.

Yes, you read that right.  I have been complaining about all of my peppers and here I am, unwilling to let the thing just die... committing myself to care for it all winter long.  Why, you ask?  Just to see if I can. 

Growing up in New England, peppers were treated as annuals.  But they are indeed perennials, and I truly had gorgeous plants (for which I can take zero credit.  They were here when we bought the place.)  It would be a shame to not even TRY to save them.  I did a bit of research last night on the internet, and decided to take this approach:

First, I harvested most of the jalapenos and then pulled up the plant.

Next, I went ahead and trimmed the roots.  Supposedly, this is supposed to encourage more root growth, but mostly I had to do it in order to get the thing into the pot I prepared for it.

Then I trimmed it back.  Way back.  And nestled it into it's new home for the winter.

And trimmed it back some more.  (When Hurricane Irene came through, it got blown around and started growing funny, so I decided to trim off the crooked branches.)

Apparently, all it needs is to be near a window for the winter, so we'll see.

The Cayenne is next, but it still has too many peppers on it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Peter Piper...

I was insanely excited last night when I hopped on Craigslist and found that someone had just listed canning jars for $25.  I was all out of empty ones, so I'd intended to buy new ones this week.  I came home with 6 cases of quarts, 4 cases of pints, and some 12 oz jelly jars for $25!

The first thing I needed to tackle were the peppers (have I mentioned how many we have?  We only have 2 bell plants, one cayenne, and one jalapeno plant, but they are STILL blossoming!)  I decided I'd try pickling some of them for Dad's for Christmas, since I am running out of ideas.

While searching for recipes, many people mentioned that canning them turns them to mush, so I decided NOT to process them and simply store them in the fridge.  I used this recipe (scroll down for the Marinated Refrigerator Peppers/)

While the jars were getting washed and sterilized, I chopped the peppers.  I used a mixture of jalapeno and cayenne.

Then, I brought 5 c white vinegar, 1 c water, and 1 TBL pickling salt to a boil.  Then, turn it down to a simmer for 5 minutes.

Fill jars with peppers, packing tightly.  Then, fill with the brine, making sure all the peppers are covered in liquid.  Place lids on, but not bands.  Let cool. 

Screw on bands and store in the fridge for up to 6 months.

They really are beautiful, and with the red and green they will be perfect for Christmas!  This recipe made 4 12-oz jars, so that would be 6 pints or 3 quarts.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All-Season Upcycled Wreath

This beauty was inspired by Pinterest, to which I am hopelessly addicted.  But I try really hard to actually MAKE some of my pins to justify my obsession.  The first project I ever made was a Thankful Tree, and it's been the perfect centerpiece for this Autumn Season.
The girls had a blast helping me punch out the circles and holes and then writing things they were thankful for.

The wreath was also a super easy (and equally as inexpensive) project.  A bunch of WalMart bags, a wire hanger, and some scissors are all you need!  It took me about five evenings in front of the tv to cut and tie the strips (I found I could do about 2 bags, then I got bored or tired).  I plan to add different ribbons depending on the season (red and green for Christmas, blue or purple or silver for the remainder of winter, green for St. Patty's Day, pastel for spring, red white and blue for summer...)  Since we don't have a basement in this house, storage space is at a premium and I can't justify having half a dozen different wreaths, so this really is perfect.

I especially like it against the red of our front door.

I may even consider making more for gifts.  Or to use as a centerpiece (with a candle in the middle, may be?)

It's ridiculously simple.  Gather about 10 white plastic bags and a wire hanger bent into a circle.
Fold in the sides of each bag so it is almost rectangular.
Fold the bag in half the long way (hotdog fold).
Do it again.
We're going to cut strips parallel to the bottom, about an inch or so thick.

Cut all the way up the bag.
You will now have lots of rings.
Cut each ring into 4 equal parts by cutting in half...
 ...and then in half again.
You want to keep only the strips that are all white.  If they have any writing on them, throw them away.
You can also use the handles.
Fold them in half
Cut them in half the long way, then you will have two more strips.
Start tying the strips around the hanger, pushing them closely together.  This is about 4 or 5 bags' worth of strips.  I lost count.

You will want to give the wreath a 'hair cut' to neaten it up.  You can do it as you go, or wait until you are all done.

Now, what are you waiting for?  Go forth and make cheap wreaths!