Sunday, August 24, 2014

Freezer Cooking 2014: Another Batch of Yum!

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

I have a confession to make... Can you believe after several days of cooking all this homemade food, we ate fast food for dinner one night?! Well, I am just telling on myself because, sad to say, I still love terrible-for-you-fatty-artificial-nasty fast food burgers and fries and I suspect I'm not the only one with this secret love. Between that and my addiction to sugar, I keep the waistline generous! I just want to be real with you all. I love real food, healthy food, made-from-scratch food and then I'll top it off with the worst of the worst! So now you know my dirty little secret. 

It would be easy to hide from those of you who don't know me personally. One day I will post a pic of the real me. Believe it or not, I'm not purposely hiding myself, I just forget to ask the hubby to snap a pose of me when he's home. May as well show myself now while I can hide behind being pregnant...ha ha ha! Though I can't blame any of my kids for the weight. I'm the crazy lady who loses weight during pregnancy then gains it all back plus a whole lot more when I am nursing the baby. I know I'm not the only one there. I have run into other women who have the same issue. So if that's you, now you know you aren't alone either. This time, I aspire to change that, so pray for me if you will.

In the meantime, I will share with you some more of my yummy food projects. No tutorial here, they are all pretty simple. First up, I made a quadruple batch of chili! Tell me that wasn't a chore! Even though it's August, it was a cool rainy morning when I made this and I have been in the mood for soup-like food lately.

I got the recipe from this awesome book! I highly recommend it, or one like it. Everything I have made out of here is super tasty. We have made several jar meals over the years to give to friends. It provides little cards to put on the jars telling you what to add to the mix. A wonderful way to make your own instant box meals. Scoot over Tuna and Hamburger Helper, we have a homemade version in town! I also have one for breads and desserts. They are equally as good. You can do an online search and come up with a ton of recipes there as well.

When it came time to freeze the chili, I discovered, not only did I not have enough freezer space to freeze it all at once, I had to get creative to find space in my refrigerator for the rest of it! That was quite the ordeal. After eating 2 meals, sending a third to a friend with a newborn, and a couple servings left over from measuring it out, I got 3 - 4 cup bags of chili, and 2 - 8 cup bags of chili. Folks, that's a ton of chili! I'm thankful now I bought that massive cooking pot for water canning! It's all very thick too, like gravy, so chances are, it will need a bit of water added on re-heating which will bulk it up even more.

Next I made a bunch of chicken and beef broth using my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook. Well, what was supposed to be beef broth. I had some frozen bones in the freezer and I thought they were all from some t-bone steaks we ate a few months ago. They were crusted over with frost, probably freezer burned, but for broth, I though it would be ok. I had 2 bags of it and threw them both in the pot with the veggies and seasonings. Later, when I went to stir it, I saw a chicken back pop up! Well, so much for that. But it still tasted good, so I kept it. I got 4 bags out of it, one of the bags has 3 cups and the rest have 4. I also got 3 bags of chicken broth at 4 cups each. So the homemade broth stock should be good to go for now. One day if I get a pressure cooker, I'd suspect it would be more convenient to can them because thawing it out can be a pain. But it's worth the effort for the health benefit. (Never mind my fast food/sugar binges.)

Then I have freezer burritos inspired by this recipe. Though I made mine with taco meat, homemade refried beans, and cheese. I haven't been able to find the reference for the homemade taco spice mix to share with you, but there are several out there. Just find the one you like best and go for it! For the refried beans I found several crock pot recipes and created my own out of the mix. I like to use dry beans, but sometimes that can really be time-consuming and/or heat up your house. So I like to use my crock pot for them when I can.

Refried Beans in the Crock Pot
1 chopped onion, or 1 T of dry minced onion
2 c dry pinto beans, sorted and washed
1 can of Rotel, or salsa, or a can of green chilies and some chopped tomatoes (or whatever you have!)
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tsp each of salt and pepper or to your taste
1/2 tsp cumin or to your taste
5-6 c of water depending on how "liquidy" your other ingredients are
Combine and cook on low 8-12 hours or overnight and blend to desired consistency. If you have a lot of liquid, you may need to drain it first so you don't end up with soupy beans. If you cook it overnight, beware, you will wake with the smell of Mexican food filling your house! Perhaps some breakfast burritos are in order?

Notice I don't have any fats in this recipe. That's because I like to double it and preserve the rest by dehydrating it. (Dehydrated foods last a lot longer in storage if there are no fats that will go rancid.) The way I do that... After I blend the beans, I spread them into my dehydrator and let them dry completely. Then I blend them into a powder and put it in jars. When it comes time to use it, I slowly stir in boiling water until it reaches my desired consistency. The more gradually you mix it, the better because it takes a few seconds to fully absorb the water. Then it's ready to eat! It's so much easier than freezing and thawing it. Plus you can easily create a single serving. Use roughly half the amount of powder for the amount of beans you want to end up with. For instance, if you need a cup of refried beans, start with 1/2 cup of powder. It's not exact depending on how much water you use, but it's a good starting point.

I mixed the meat, beans and cheese together, filled the burritos, then laid them out individually on a pan to freeze. After they are frozen, I put them in bags. I thought, the burritos you buy in bags at the store aren't individually wrapped, so I didn't wrap mine either. Saves waste! They reheat in the microwave just the same as the store-bought kind, but are so much better! Heating time depends on how big you make your burritos. I made them with both white and wheat tortillas.

I hope you are enjoying my cooking endeavors! I sure enjoy sharing them with you! I have gotten so much help from cooking tips and suggestions, so I am happy to keep passing on the love. Until next time!

Happy Cooking!

Jen Hen

Friday, August 22, 2014

Freezer Cooking 2014: Chicken Pot Pie

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

Today I will show you how I not only made some yummy Chicken Pot Pie, but I made my first real-lard Flaky Pie Crust! I have made chicken pot pie many times before, but it usually consisted of canned cream soup, chicken and veggies with a biscuit mix crust on top. Nothing wrong with that! But in my effort to be more frugal (baking mix costs quite a bit more than the ingredients it's made up of) and trying to use less commercially canned items, I went on the hunt for a more home-made version. Well, I found it, and it was fabulous! This recipe is also great for freezer cooking because it makes 3 whole pies! She doesn't give instructions for freezing a whole pie, so I took a chance and froze the other 2 instead of baking them. I will thaw them and bake them a little longer than recommended when the time comes.

The differences I used for my recipes:
I used a 32 oz bag of frozen mixed veggies in place of the carrots and peas. That is still much more than she calls for, but I also usually cut the meat in recipes by half to save, so the rest was made up in veggie bulk. I feel this is a win-win here. Veggies are cheaper and healthier than meat in general.
I had no fresh onions, so I used 2 Tablespoons of minced dried onion.
I omitted the salt (as she suggests) because my homemade chicken broth already has it added. Plus I omit salt from many of my dinner dishes because we like to add our own to our individual servings. My husband likes much more than I do.
Instead of cream, I used half and half. It was about 1/4 the price of cream here.
Instead of fresh parsley, which I did not have, I used about a Tablespoon of dry parsley flakes.
I was out of eggs (same day as the Cinnamon Rolls) so I used a bit of the half and half to brush the top of the pie instead. 
The only other difference, I used lard instead of duck fat in the crust itself. I did not ask for it at the meat counter, though I probably will in the future. Now that I have bought lard, I see they add preservatives and such to it, so I am going to look into rendering my own lard from beef (or duck) fat. I will let you know if I do.

Then I just followed the instructions as she has them. Mix the flour and salt first. By the way, my food processor is extremely loud! It's just a cheapy because I do not use it often.

Then I added the chunks of butter and lard.

There are much bigger chunks underneath that you cannot see. It was hard not to over mix this! I kept wanting to blend until smooth.

Then a bit of water. I think I ended up using 7 Tablespoons for each one.

She says you should see chunks of butter because that's how the crust ends up flaky. Look close and you can see, mission accomplished! Pretty proud of my novice attempt here.

Somewhere along the line I have read about using parchment paper to roll dough out to decrease the chance of it sticking. In the past, pie crust and I have not gotten along, so I thought I'd try this out. Here's my dough still in the plastic from chilling in the fridge. If you look super close, you can see teeny black dots where I marked a 10 inch circle to follow when rolling out the dough.

And here is my circle covering all the dots! After having this stick to the parchment paper, I learned that a bit of flour sprinkled on the parchment makes an honestly non-stick surface. So I will do this from now on. I don't like the waste of parchment and will one day look into buying the reusable kind. I rarely use it and found a few rolls for a great clearance price after the holidays last year that will last me awhile, so I will keep using it for now.

I didn't get a pick of this, but I folded the crust into fours (after flouring the top a bit so it didn't stick to itself) and unfolded it onto my pie crust. It didn't quite fit, but close enough I could make it work.

Then I filled all 3 pies with the filling. I didn't want to chance overfilling any of them, so I ended up with about a cup or so of filling left over.

Here's a pie getting ready to freeze in my deep freeze. My refrigerator is a side-by-side, so most dishes won't fit flat in that skinny little freezer. Yes, I found that out the hard way. Do you like my attempt at getting decorative with the vent slits?

Then here is the pie I baked for dinner that night and another fun attempt at artistry. We had dinner with friends, note the towel and plaid casserole carrier underneath. The pie was a huge hit! I played the humble card at the time, but when we got home I celebrated another culinary win! I love when recipes come out tasty and satisfying!

I hope you also enjoy this tasty recipe! I am excited to have 2 more of these in the freezer ready to go for another day. Possibly with a new infant in my arms. Yay! Right now I'm happy to be in my second trimester nesting phase. So if I disappear on you for awhile, just know that I am probably homesteading up some more entertaining posts for you!

Happy cooking!

Jen Hen

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Freezer Cooking 2014: My Favorite Cinnamon Roll Recipe

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

As promised, I am keeping you updated on my freezer cooking adventures! Now, I'll warn you, I seem to tweak most of the recipes I am comfortable with preparing. Not because anything is wrong with the recipe, though. I personalize it and use what I have on hand. Sometimes I am out of eggs (actually many times I am out of eggs...hope that changes when my hens start laying) so I'll use a flax seed binder instead. Or I'll want to use wheat bread instead of white bread which means I need to add less flour. For me, that is easier than doing the math to add more liquid and leavening. Perhaps the recipe calls for shortening or margarine, which I no longer use, nor keep in the house. Perhaps I choose to switch out some of the oil with applesauce. Sometimes I simply mess up and it turns out good anyway! Whatever it may be, I just want everyone to know, just because I change something doesn't mean it was broken to begin with. I'd never want to step on someone's toes like that!

So, with that said, I want to introduce you to my favorite Cinnamon Roll Recipe from Money Saving Mom. No, I'm not being paid to advertise for her unless you count all the money I have saved with her suggestions. Her site is one of a handful that inspired me to start my own blog. She helps so many people and that really appeals to me. So, without further ado, here's my personalized tutorial.

The main differences I have are: 
I use whey instead of milk, simply because it's another way to use it up and I usually have lots of it.
I use coconut oil or butter instead of regular oil.
I use 2 eggs instead of one egg and 2 whites. I usually don't get around to using the yolks before they go bad and I hate wasting them. Or, I will use the flax seed binder which is what I used in this tutorial because, yet again, I let us run out of eggs.
Sometimes I substitute honey for the sugar, just keep in mind your dough will be more sticky and possibly need more flour.
I use all wheat flour or close to it. I finally emptied my 50 pound bag of wheat flour so I used 3 cups wheat and 1 cup white this time. I just add a bit less flour at first, maybe 1/4 cup less, then add as needed. In this case I forgot, so when it mixed up dry, I just added a touch of whey until it looked right.
I made the rest just as she says, even doubling the filling! I agree, we love our filling! And this is one of the few recipes that had enough icing for me. (Lord help me, I love my sugar!) 

So, here is the dough freshly mixed and raised in the bread machine pan. Notice the flecks of flax seed?

I punched it down and turned it out onto the floured surface. I will usually use white flour for this since wheat flour absorbs more liquid and may dry the dough too much. A couple more things I should mention about wheat dough, I do indeed use "whole" wheat flour, I just get lazy writing and typing "whole" each and every time. Also, I will try to let the dough sit for a few minutes right after mixing to let it absorb the liquid in order to see if I need to add more or not before letting it rise.

Time to roll out the dough! I have to say, this is the best rectangle I have ever made and I'm pleased it happened on the day I wanted to share with you! I put a bit of flour on the top of the dough as well to keep it from sticking to my rolling pin.

Nom nom butter and filling! I was actually out of butter, so I used coconut oil instead. This is what happens when you cook more than normal without advance forget to compensate on shopping day and end up running out of everything! Hey hey, I know I'm not the only one!

Roll and cut! I'm not sure if you can see my ugly seam here, but thankfully, it gets hidden when it's baked. Somewhere along the way I read about cutting cinnamon rolls with dental floss and it works well! Plus it's a great way to reuse something! I'm kidding! Though I'm sure it would be tasty to floss with after cutting cinnamon rolls with it. (Ignore the ugly chipping nail polish. Seriously, I think I've painted my nails twice this!)

Tada! Notice they aren't all even. That's ok, they are very forgiving when they bake. Plus if you count, I cut them into 16 pieces vs. the 10-15 she recommends. Really, it's just easier for my simple mind to divide it up that way, plus I have an even number to divide into the pans. I think I also roll them smaller. That's the great thing about these, you can adjust it to whatever works for you!

Here they are all divided up! I forgot to turn the ends pretty side up, but I did that right after I took a picture. When these bake, they will fill out the pan, no need to let them rise.

Now, normally I'd bake and add icing, freeze one and eat one as she suggests. But this time I decided to try something new. What if I freeze the dough then bake later? So that's what I am going to try. Perhaps they won't get pulled from the freezer so soon that way. ;) Here I have written instructions so that my hubby can prepare while I nurse our newborn, or I have a quick dish to grab out of the freezer for a friend in need. Though I would probably go ahead and make the icing in a separate dish in that case. I thought about making the icing and freezing it too, then realized I was out of butter, so that got me off the hook. I have not tried it with coconut oil yet. Notice here the recipe is for half the icing. Also, I add more milk than what is called for and mine seem to take longer to bake. Perhaps that's the fault of the wheat flour.

Here's a batch I made the day before with bread flour. Ironically, I didn't like them as well as the wheat! Don't get me wrong, they were still fabulous and they are all gone by now. The other dish went to a friend with a newborn, along with some homemade chili. Yummy comfort food for the happy and tired parents!

Well, after you wipe the drool off your screen, I hope you venture out on your own cinnamon-roll-making quest! They are so inexpensive to make and a bread machine really cuts some time out of the process. Though you can certainly do this by hand! I usually don't on this particular recipe because I normally have another project going. That's one of the many reasons why I love this recipe! We would not eat cinnamon rolls nearly as often if I had to do it by hand each and every time. Though, perhaps that would be better for my waistline. Ha ha!

Happy Baking!

Jen Hen

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Barefoot and Pregnant in the Kitchen

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

That's right, feminists, don't have a stroke, I am barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen this week! (Though not actually barefoot as I need to wear corrective insoles, but certainly pregnant...) How I love freezer cooking in preparation for the baby. So does my hubby... In the past, I have not been able to do much with a small freezer, but this year, a friend sold one to us for super cheap that is double the size! I am a cooking fool now! Bet I won't fill it with food? Challenge accepted!

I have also been making a lot of snacks for the kids. I really dislike the store bought stuff with all the additives and such, but that's what they got since I was down and out for so long. We use lots of fruit too, but sometimes I need something that isn't sticky or messy and keeps well for outings. Plus they have to be softer since my little one can't chew things like apples or carrots yet and my older one doesn't like super crunchy things like that. Once you have a peach get smashed in your purse, you tend to get a bit gun-shy about that sort of thing!

With all the cooking going on, I have gotten inquiries on what I'm doing, so I thought I'd just post it here to share with you all! I have posted what recipes I have used and/or the references. Otherwise, most of the time I improvise based on what I have on hand and do not follow an exact recipe.

The snacks and treats I have made:

Homemade Whole Wheat Crackers -- I have come to realize that I don't like the taste of rosemary, so I left it out and added garlic salt in place of the salt. These were pretty good though bland. They are best paired with some sort of topping, like cheese or hummus. They were best right out of the oven, but they kept well in a container when kept dry.

Soft Pretzels -- no lie, I ate 5 of these right out of the oven. Good thing it made 16...made them yesterday and we have 2 left. She is right, they are much better eaten the same day, but day-old pretzels have not deterred us from eating the rest of them! Next time I will freeze what we don't eat the same day to see if that will improve the texture when re-heated. Sort of like the store-bought pretzels in the freezer isle.

Easy Peanut Butter Snack -- I actually use this more like candy...we call it Peanut Butter candy. This will help a sugar attack if you get one and, while still loaded with fat and sugar, at least it's healthier than store-bought candy.

Raisin Bran Treats -- I just took a run-of-the-mill crisp rice treat recipe and used raisin bran instead of crisp rice.

Cornflake Kisses from the cookbook, Young Children's Mix and Fix Cookbook. Not sure if this is still in print (the copyright is in 1975) but it has a lot of easy healthy snacks and meals for kids.

Gelatin blocks out of concentrated fruit juice and unflavored gelatin.

Super Hero Snacks from the cookbook, Healthy Snacks for Kids by Penny Warner. This is another great resource for healthy meals and snack for kids.

Gummy Sweet Potato snacks -- cooked sweet potatoes dehydrated until chewy. They turn out really sweet!

Tomato Candy -- sliced and dehydrated tomatoes. The kids literally cry for these! My home-grown tomatoes are already super sweet, so when they are condensed down like this, they are almost sugary!

Some Meals I have made:

Southwestern style casserole with squash and black beans -- one for dinner, one for freezer

Zucchini Casserole with shredded zucchini, red bell peppers, tomatoes, and cheese topped with fried onions -- one for dinner, one for freezer.

Individual burritos with taco meat, homemade refried beans, and cheese. I also made several to put in the freezer and added rice and corn to them.

Homemade Sloppy Joes with Honey Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns and Baked Zucchini Fries

Homemade Cream of Mushroom soup -- My husband loves eating this as is out of the can. I have to say this sort of grossed me out because I didn't know anyone did that before I met him. So, I will make it for him from time to time because, even though it still isn't healthy, it's still better than canned! Make a roux out of butter and flour, add milk until thickened (just like gravy, but thinner) then add spices and sauteed mushroom bits. Actually, you can make any kind of cream soup using this recipe.

Whole chicken cooked in crock pot with veggies.

Roast and veggies in the crock pot.

Plus many meals with different kinds of sandwiches and various produce from the garden and store. Also breakfasty-type food, like scrambled eggs, toast, pancakes, bacon, etc.

Just tonight I made White Sandwich Bread and actually used bread flour for the first time. Oh. My. Goodness. I think I finally made a homemade bread my husband will love! I love crusty, hearty homemade bread, but my hubby loves the cake-like, super-light, store-bought type of bread. I have tried hard to find a homemade bread he likes just as well, if not better. This bread is so light, my 4 year old and I ate half a loaf, plain, by ourselves. This bread is so light and fluffy, I'm pretty sure if you smooshed it down, you could eat the whole loaf in 2 bites! I have to add, these are the prettiest loaves I have ever made. My cooking might taste good, but it's usually not very pretty. (You know me, functional and plain!) Ok, I'll stop bragging now. It's just nice to be productive after being confined to the couch for so long.

I usually use whole wheat flour for the health aspects and if I use white, I use unbleached. Imagine my surprise when the grocery store had local bread flour just a few cents more than the cheapy, bleached flour, making it even cheaper than the stuff I usually buy! Usually bread flour is so expensive, I don't pay it any mind. I hope to see more of this kind of thing in stores. Don't get me wrong, I'd buy local for everything if I could, but a $50/week grocery budget (including paper and toiletries) doesn't leave a whole lot of wiggle room.

I hope you have enjoyed my cooking post. Next time I'll try to get some pictures of everything and perhaps make a tutorial. Especially for homemade bread. I don't know what it is, but when I was able to make bread from scratch and it came out good, I felt like an accomplished homesteader! One of my goals is to bake bread in my dutch oven over fire/coals. I've made simple desserts like this before, but I have not yet tried bread. There is something about baking bread that gives me more satisfaction than most other things I cook. Maybe it's because it took quite some time for me to be able to do it well and even then, it doesn't always turn out right. My husband came with a bread machine (nice perk, right?) and I'd still rather knead the bread and shape it myself. But, it's nice to have a backup when I don't have time and/or something (or someone) else needs my attention.

I will continue to make freezer meals until my freezer is full or baby shows up! I should add that I love the articles out there with instructions on how to do several different freezer meals at once. The method that works best for me is to just double whatever I am making for dinner and freeze half of it. It takes longer to build up a good stock, but it works better for me. Plus I can cook with what I have instead of needing to rely on a grocery list that may be more extensive that what I can handle at the moment. It's all about being prudent and doing what works for you! I've known of women who will cook for an entire 48 hour weekend and have food ready to go for the whole month.

Tell me about your cooking adventures! What do you love to make from scratch? Does the idea of cooking from scratch scare you? (You aren't alone!) Feel free to share your recipes and/or post a link. I like using tried and true recipes from friends and other bloggers!

Happy Cooking!

Jen Hen

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 2014 Update

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

I apologize for not gettting more posts out there! I had all these plans for a fall garden and succession planting, but alas, baby body does not want to cooperate! But I have been doing a lot of cooking in preparation for baby, so I will share some of that with you later this month (I hope!). 

Some parts of my garden are winding down while others are thriving. My root veggies are pretty well done. I had planned on planting more for a fall crop, but I have missed the window for that. Granted, I could still get some sown to see if they would make it and/or create a dome to protect them from mild frost, but that's probably not going to happen this year. I do have a handful beets and carrots that are very small, so I am leaving them in the ground to see if they will get bigger.

My tomatoes and basil are doing great!

The basil has all gone to seed in the summer heat, so I am saving the seeds for next year. Little Buddy loves to eat the basil leaves out of the garden. I can't get him to eat anything green at dinnertime, so I'll take what I can get!

Here is a Brandywine tomato that started to split from too much water. We went through a long dry period, then had several thunderstorms over a couple weeks that saturated the ground. I picked this one so it wouldn't split any further. I'm surprised it was the only one. If you leave the green tops on your tomatoes, they'll ripen indoors a bit faster and taste sweeter (in my opinion anyway.)

I like to leave my tomatoes on the vine until they are completely ripe, but I found a couple of almost ripe tomatoes laying on the ground with teeth marks in them, so I have been picking them before whatever vermin it is gets hold of them. They still taste so much better than store-bought!

I don't think I'll see any pumpkins or melons this year. I just got them in the ground too late. Darn morning sickness anyway! But I am going to let them go until the fall frost kills them and we'll see if any make it! As of right now, I am still seeing only the long-stemmed male flowers. The female flowers form right against the vine that make the fruit.

My sad, sad straw bale garden. I got one tomato from these teeny things. Still better than nothing! Next time I will be sure to prepare my bale as recommended!

I think my little Tiny Tim tomato plant is almost done. It hasn't flowered in a while and has only a couple tomatoes on it. To be honest, I didn't like these tomatoes as well as other varieties, but I still think this plant has value as it produces so many fruits in such a small space. I am impressed! Being in a pot, it needs water almost every day, which doesn't happen around here very well. Oops! But, it all works out b/c I got to see how hearty this little plant is too! Though some leaves and branches wilted, the plant as a whole has survived. I am guessing if well-maintained, this plant would produce 2-3 times more tomatoes. A household that had a handful of these plants may even get enough for canning!

Little Buddy's zinnias are still blooming away! This is the first year I have planted flowers that didn't directly have a use in my garden, like marigolds or nasturtiums. I tend to be function first, pretty later, if I have time. Well, I am learning that some pretty things don't take a whole lot of time and space. Besides, the more flowers you have, the more pollinators you attract. I have seen very few honey bees, mostly wasps and bumble bees. I don't like this one bit! Folks, that is a scary thing! Even with all the reports and warnings people still continue to use pesticides that kill our pollinators. I hear the excuse that they wouldn't have a garden otherwise because the bugs eat it all. Well, let's see how much of a garden grows when there are no pollinators left. There are so many natural ways to deter and kill pests that won't kill the important bugs. That's why my tomato plants are completely surrounded by basil. I have not seen a single "bad bug" on my plants since the basil really got going. There are a ton of resources out there that will tell you what types of herbs and flowers will deter what type of pests. It just takes a little extra planning and some knowledge. When push comes to shove, you've got the option of picking the pests off by hand. Not fun and very tedious, but still better than poison. Okay, stepping off my soapbox and moving on...

My square foot garden is still going strong. These are Jaune Flamme tomatoes and wow are they sweet! They are bright yellow and orange tomatoes that are sugary sweet. First time I have grown them and I will continue to do so. Their production isn't as high as other varieties and the fruits are smaller, so they won't be my main tomato crop, but I will keep a couple around every year for snacking.

I did get a bit of succession planting done. I have corn and different squashes in place of all the cooler weather crops I harvested earlier this summer. The corn is stunted though, b/c I got it in the ground too late. I started some seeds and then got too sick to get them in the ground in time.

But the squash seems to be doing well. Again, not sure I'll get any fruit out of it, but the vines and flowers are beautiful. Plus I did find one teeny little bee doing her job.

One of my un-kept, poorly growing volunteer tomato plants. This one is producing fruit like crazy though! It has been a fun experiment to see what happens when I let nature do all the work without any intervention from me. I get a couple teeny tomatoes off this plant almost every day. Pretty impressive really.

My summer compost pile is being transferred for the winter. There are many ways to compost depending on the space you have and what you prefer. This is a simple wrap-around compost that I got for free from my  local county extension office as an incentive for their new recycling program last year. Though I like my pallets better for long-term use, I like using this for the summer as it will fill up fast. Normally I would wait to transfer this to the pallet compost in early fall, but I never know how I'll feel from day to day, so I work on it when I feel up to it. I still have at least one more day to work on this as I can't do it all at once anymore. Turning compost takes a lot of effort even without carrying a growing baby!

The pile with the lid is my compost pile from last winter and spring. It would have been ready to use by now, but I was not diligent in turning it. Also I had some items that I did not chop up first so they took longer to break down, like cardboard and our huge, sturdy sycamore leaves. I could use it this fall, but I will keep it there to use next year since the fall garden has fallen by the way-side.

I harvested the last of my tired potatoes. I was surprised at the results. Out of the potato tower, tires, and milk-crates, I got the biggest yield from the milk crates! Fine by me as that was the easiest method and not quite as much of an eye-sore as the tires are. (Sorry neighbors!) So I think I will get rid of these. But, not to discourage recycling by any means! I think if the middles of the tires were cut out, the results would be better. Also, the tires could be spray-painted to make them more attractive. It is all more than I am able to do this year, though. You can only do what you can do, know what I mean? Also, I put the tarp out to catch the dirt from the potato towers. Though you don't want to reuse potato and tomato dirt for the same thing next year, I will use this dirt elsewhere. Seems I always need more soil!

The in-ground corn is all done for the year. Most of the ears were stunted again since I didn't get out to fertilize and let the weeds take over. Corn is a heavy feeder! It's not recommended for small gardens since it takes up so much space for such little production (only about 2 ears per stalk), but I enjoy watching it grow. Plus I can still use the underdeveloped ears for corn-cob jelly. Though this year, many of those went to the chickens. How they loved it!

The supposed acorn squash turned out to be an acorn-zucchini hybrid. I can't complain since I got the plants for free and it's also a lesson learned to ask more questions and/or not be such a cheapskate. This is also a lesson in saving seeds. Some you can, some you can't. Squashes are notorious for cross-breeding with pollination. So unless you only plant one type of squash or create a system to where the pollinators can't get from one type to another, you will end up with cross-bred squash that is usually sub-par. If you start out with pure seeds, that year's crop will be ok, you just can't save the seeds for next year or you will get mutants. We are still eating the acorn-zucchini mutants, but they don't have very good flavor. I shred them and hide them in other dishes so we are still getting the nutrients from them. Also, the chickens absolutely love it, so that helps. 

Speaking of chickens, my RIR (Rhode Island Red) girls are getting bigger and bigger! They are 16 weeks old so I will start looking for eggs at the end of the month! Though they may not produce until next spring as I have read many chickens stop laying over the winter unless you give them supplemental light to prolong their days. I won't do that this year since they are so young.

These babies are just 10 weeks old, so I certainly won't expect eggs out of them until the spring. Although, I suspect I have more than one rooster in this bunch and if that's the case, we may be having garden-fresh chicken dinner October or November.

My little garden munchkins. I can't tell you how many pictures I took to get this one, but it was a lot! They never stop moving! If you look close you will see they are covered in dirt! How I love these little boys!

Though I am tired and some days downright overwhelmed, I look forward to having another little one underfoot. He or she will be newborn when I start planting for next year. A homesteader from day one! I take comfort and, truth be told, some pride in the fact that growing up as homesteaders is the norm for these little ones. They don't know any different b/c it was been this way from the start for them. This really keeps me going on the days where I am just done with it all. They have so much fun and take so much pride when they can help. These are skills I hope they refine and pass down through the generations. I have many many failures (I try to call them learning experiences) but I hope they see them and learn from them as well.

I hope you all are doing well in your homesteading adventures! As always, feel free to share your own experiences, I'd love to hear from you!

Jen Hen

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Time and a Season

Hello fellow gardeners!

So I have been asked, "Jen, how do you do it all?" This always leaves me speechless b/c I am far from doing the bare minimum let alone doing it all! In fact, if we go several days without rain in the growing season, you will see the results in my messy home. Rain is about the only thing that will keep me indoors to get some housework done. I pray for rain, not only for my garden, but for my family's well-being!

I take rainy days as the opportunity to make a dent in housework. Notice I didn't say catch-up on housework. I am never caught up. Seriously. I am a terrible housekeeper! I could tell you about all sorts of psychology here, but suffice it to say, I like progress, not repetition. The progression of my garden thrills me! From a teeny seed that pops a bit of green out of the soil. Those tiny leaves growing into a plant. That plant producing fruit. Me eating that fruit. Then cultivating that plant back into the soil or compost to feed next year's crop. The variables of weather, types of plants, methods of gardening, crop rotation, succession planting... It just keeps changing!

But a messy house is, well, a messy house. Laundry gets washed, dried, folded, and put away the same every week. Dust doesn't change. Bathrooms and floors need scrubbed just the same. Beds get slept in every night. Dishes keep rolling through. Things get dirty as fast (or faster) as I can clean them. I really dislike treadmills.

With that said, I consider it my personal duty to do all that for my family, but more importantly, for my Lord. I signed up for this! As a believer, I am called to be a good steward of what the Lord has provided. " I try to see the pile of dirty dishes as a blessing that we are eating well, the pile of dirty clothes a sign that we are well-clothed, the unmade beds a sign of security, and the general dirt a sign of an active, healthy family. Granted, I don't see myself ever winning an award from Good Housekeeping, but I do the best I can. The Lord knows where my heart is. On days where I am feeling particularly begrudging about it, I pray for Him to change my heart. He is bigger than my feelings! Then I do get a quiet satisfaction in caring for my family in this way. But I still have times where the flesh wins out and I throw a temper tantrum the whole time!

So if you are sitting there with a crying toddler at your feet, a nursing baby in your arms, a preschooler dirtying up the one thing you got cleaned today, and a hungry husband rolling in to see if the dinner you haven't even started is ready yet wondering how in the world you are supposed to start a garden, know this:

First, the Lord sees you and your exhaustion. He gives us more than we can handle so that we will lean on Him and not our own strength. If life was easy all the time would we really seek Him? "...We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." 2 Corinthians 1:8b-9 (Don't believe the "God won't give you more than you can handle" bit. It's not in scripture and you can see it says just the opposite in 2 Corinthians.)

Second, there is a time and season for everything.
"There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace."
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
I went to a presentation on backyard chickens in the spring, and while it fueled my desire for them and confirmed to me that I was ready for this, my friend decided this wasn't the right year for her to start this. I applaud that decision! You have to be prudent in your decisions, not just follow the crowd. "The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception." Proverbs 14:8

Third, we are all called to different things and blessed with different gifts. "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. I have a passion for gardening, absolutely thrive with it! I can spend all day out there without even realizing it. I honestly have to set a timer so I know when to stop and go on to the next thing on my agenda. So it is easy for me to "find" the time for this because I love it so much.

Fourth, we all have different resources. I tend to do things that are more labor and time intensive to save money. I use what I have available and scrounge for parts and tools.

Fifth, I try to combine tasks if I can. I will fold laundry outside while my kids play. I'll listen to a bible study while I wash dishes. I teach my kids different tasks they can help me with in the garden to keep them busy while I do something else. I give the kids age appropriate chores and even challenge them with one or two that may not quite be in their grasp. Not to the point of discouragement, but a goal for them to work towards and the satisfaction they gain when they master it. In our house we work together as a family and all pitch in. Even my toddler has chores!

Sixth, some days are just a matter of surviving: I'm sick, the kids are cranky, hubby's working late, dinner burns, emergencies rise, hormones are running rampant, the A/C breaks in 100 degree weather...whatever your level of crisis may be. It's ok to have days where you feel successful just because everyone is alive and accounted for. However, if this becomes your life day after day after day, it may be time to reset your priorities and/or get some outside help. Follow the Lord no matter what. He will guide you. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6. Never lose hope. "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed....Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4: 8-9, 16-18. Though my house may be dirty, my soul is fed.

I hope this has offered a word of hope to someone in need of it. I know I certainly need it on a regular basis. I started this post in the spring and now, being in a very tough season of life at the moment, these words I had written on a spiritual high helped to lift me up in my spiritual low. I know now why I didn't get it finished a few months ago.

I pray Spiritual Joy to you my friends!

Jen Hen