Thursday, September 30, 2010

12 New Things Challenge - Laundry Soap

So far, I'm loving the focus of learning one new thing each month.

I have to admit, I dabbled in a couple of the coming month's projects. Have to start researching, you know!

But back to this month, September's new project was to make my own laundry detergent.

I've been wanting to try this for a long time, but I thought it would be complicated. I've been using Charlies Soap, which I loved, but a friend finally convinced me to try making my own. I purchased the ingredients but they just sat in the cupboard until I finally decided I was purchasing no more detergent.

So one Monday morning, I emptied the last of the bought detergent in the first load of laundry - and I made laundry detergent. That wouldn't sound like procrastination, would it?

I couldn't believe how SIMPLE detergent was to make.

I made two batches of detergent, a dry powder and a liquid, while I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes amongst all the Monday morning crazies - and it took MAYBE a whole half hour.

Both recipes called for the same ingredients. I'll list the recipes and share my comments on each one.

Detergent Powder

1 Fels Naptha soap bar - grated
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup Borax

Mix all together. Use 1 T per load.

My Take-
This one was EASY and perfect when you need detergent NOW! I used my food processor to grate the soap so it didn't take long. One recipe didn't make a whole lot. I do a lot of laundry and used it up in just less than a month. I like the powder form because it can sit next to my washing machine in a canning jar and look cute. I thought it cleaned clothes well - even turning diapers sweet smelling (my ultimate test!)

Liquid Detergent

18 cups water
1 Fels Naptha soap bar
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup Borax
3 gallon hot water

Simmer 18 cups of water in large pan. Grate soap bar and dissolve in water. Add washing soda and Borax and stir. Pour mixture in a 5 gallon bucket with three gallon of hot water. Allow to sit overnight. Use 1/2 cup per load. If heavily soiled, use 1 cup.

My Take-
This recipe was slightly more complicated since it involves cooking, but it wasn't difficult. I was surprised the next morning to find the soap had gelled into a detergent that looked surprisingly like bought detergent. Since then, the mixture has separated and looks a little curdled, but I've heard that is normal.

I like using a liquid detergent because I feel like it dissolves in the washing machine better. But I really don't like dipping out of this huge bucket! I also worry one of the children will get into it and make a HUGE mess! I have only used this detergent for the past week, but it seems to get clothing clean well.

Next, I want to try Jeni's recipe. Her children sound like mine - mud lovers! (And did I tell you it is raining! Again! Twice in one week! Hallelujah! Bring on the mud!) I would like to test the difference in stain removal in her detergent.

What new project did you tackle this month?

Soap Making Demo

For those of you who have expressed interest in watching a soap making demonstration AND live locally, Jesalynn will be giving a demonstration this Saturday, October 2 at 10:00 a.m. at the farmer's market.

If you want directions or more info, email me. walkingbymyside AT

Hope some of you can make it!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Apple Cake

The great thing about fruit desserts is that I can feel like I am eating something good for me while indulging my sweet tooth! Of course, it still contains sugar and isn't REALLY good for me, but I can pretend!

Apple Cake 

Briefly adapted from Simply in Season

5 cups apples (unpeeled and chopped)
1 cup sugar (you can add more if your apples are very tart)

Combine and let stand while mixing other ingredients.

1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
Combine in a separate bowl.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Mix in with oil and eggs until barely moistened. Stir in apples. Pour into greased 9x13 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 T flour
While cake bakes, heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

1/3 cup powdered sugar
Stir in. Drizzle over hot cake.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Apple Season!

One of the best things about fall is the apples. Though I do occasionally buy apples in the grocery store through out the year, in the fall we binge.

With all the other fresh fruit available, I didn't buy apples since the strawberries started in May. The children were absolutely thrilled to have apples again.

I usually purchase seconds at a local orchard.When purchasing apples, I've found it best to call around. In our area there are quite a few apple orchards and there is a wide variety of prices.

Today I went to pick up some more apples at the orchard. I paid $6.00 a bushel for seconds, the best price I've ever seen in our area. I bought Golden Delicious and Empire.

On the way home, I stopped at another orchard for cider. This orchard was located not more than a half mile from the first orchard. There the apple seconds were selling for $8.00 a HALF bushel. Maybe because they make cider and  have a good use for their seconds, they are not as eager to give them away!

I just checked my records from last fall and found that I had purchased 10 bushel of apples. That sounds like a ridiculous amount. With those apples I made apple pie filling, apple butter, applesauce, all manner of apple desserts and lots of fresh eating.

Last year, I had been determined not to run out of applesauce. Ed loves applesauce and could eat it 365 days of the year. I pack a bowl of applesauce in his lunch almost every day. The children love applesauce too so I made applesauce last year until I thought I HAD to have enough.

But this summer, it was obvious I wasn't going to make it until fall. I cut back on serving applesauce and started feeding them fresh fruit and actually have six jars of applesauce left. I also have a couple jars of apple pie filling and maybe one jar of apple butter.

But, obviously, I had to buy a bunch more apples for this coming year. I've bought nine bushels so far, in two trips. We ate a peck of them just in the last week, mostly just fresh with some peanut butter. Almost every meal ends with "Can I have a apple with peanut butter?" - a request I can't resist!

Buying seconds isn't without it's issues. I don't usually order over the phone because I like to look at them first. Some of the apples I got had nothing wrong, just small size. Others have brown "dings" that the orchard man says are from stink bug damage. They should be fine for applesauce.

I found maybe one or two per bushel that have a small rotten spot. I like to transfer them to a new crate when I get home and check for any bad apples. You know what they say about one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch!

We'll save the nicest apples for fresh eating and turn the rest into applesauce.

My back can't handle moving that many bushels into the house, and I didn't want them to sit in the hot van. The children's red wagon came in handy.

I had a willing helper.

But then she decided to ride!

Tomorrow I'll share the recipe of an apple cake we enjoyed last night. I'd love to hear what you do with apples!

Oh, and did I tell you, we got rain! Over TWO inches of rain yesterday! Praise the Lord! It was the first since August  I never knew rain could sound so good!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Drying Onions

Earlier this year I mentioned my struggle to keep onions. Several of you suggested drying them.

My onions are one crop that did well this summer. And surprisingly, they seem to be keeping well. Usually the onions look fine when harvested, but when cut open, one of the inner rings is rotten. Soon, the whole center of the onion is rotten.

I talked to my extension office, and they suggested that possibly fluctuating soil moisture had something to do with my problem. Well, this summer there was no moisture to fluctuate! And the onions appear to have no center rot problem. Maybe onions like dry weather?

After harvesting the onions, I braided them and hung them in the wood shed to dry. I've been using a lot of them in pizza sauce and salsa. But since my tomatoes didn't do that great, I still have lots left.

I borrowed my mom's dehydrator, and tried drying some.

It took a large bowl of onions to fill the dehydrator. I sat the dehydrator in the basement in my husband's shop because the smell of onions was almost overpowering.

The dehydrator ran all night. In the morning I separated the rings and left it on for a few more hours.

Once the onions were totally dry, I decided to turn them into minced onions.

The blender made quick work and almost made it onion powder than minced.

The entire dehydrator load, once blended, fit into one pint container! How is that for space saving!

I'm storing the dried onion in the freezer since it doesn't have any anti-caking agents added and I'm guessing it may absorb moisture. 

I still have about 60 heads of onions hanging. I have no idea how many I use in one winter. I'm going to keep using them for as long as they seem to be keeping well. Then I may dehydrate some more. Hopefully, I can use my own onions (fresh or dried)  until spring onions arrive! Not that onions are expensive to buy, but since my garden was a failure in most other areas, I'm enjoying this one small success!

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Welcome Fall

I love living in a climate where there are four distinctly different seasons.

Usually I'm eager to enjoy the next season while dragging my feet to leave the last season. There never seems to be enough time to enjoy all that a season has to offer.

But not this time. I've never been so eager to see a season end. The unrelenting heat and drought of this summer can not end too soon!

Not that this summer is giving up easily. Usually by now we are enjoying crisp fall days, but today it hit 88 degrees. At least the night temperature has been cooling down since I refuse to turn on the air conditioning. And we still desperately need rain.

But I have fall on the brain and am choosing to believe that cool weather is soon approaching.

To me, the best part of fall is hot drinks. I'm not a coffee drinker but in cool weather Ed and I will often enjoy a mug of cocoa or tea after we put the children to bed at night. There is just something comforting about a hot mug in  your hand and I can understand why some nurse a coffee mug all day. Or maybe it is just time spent in the quiet moment of the day with my husband that I really enjoy!

Add in a scented candle

and a few pumpkins (the only two survivors from the patch) and the picture is complete.

Oops! Can't forget the apple pie!

I finally went to the orchard and bought some apples this week. I can't believe it took me so long. I LOVE apples!

I am also spending time with a couple favorite cookbooks, making a list of all the great cool weather meals, like soups and chowders, plus all the fall desserts that I don't want to miss making. many reasons to love fall.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Starting New Grape Vines

Despite all my garden failures this year, there has been a few successes.

Last winter I read about starting your own grape vines from cuttings on Simple Green and Frugal. It looked so simple, I had to try it.

We have planted at least ten grape vines the past couple years but have killed all but four and two of those are barely alive. I liked the idea of increasing our grape vines without spending any more money on something I'd probably kill.

When I pruned the grape vines, I followed the directions to save 18 inch cutting. These I stuck in an old nursery pot filled with compost and garden soil. They said to expect only half to root. I figured my success would be even less so filled the pot with about a dozen cuttings. At least a third of the cuttings are growing leaves so I expect there is a root system growing as well.

I took cuttings from our one grapevine that is growing successfully and also from my parent's grapevine. My question now is what to do with it over winter. I think I should plant the new grapevines when they are still dormant in March or April. But I don't want them to freeze out over winter. I'm thinking of digging a hole and placing the whole pot in the ground to insulate it.

Any other ideas?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Unto the Least of These

Have you ever been bombarded by a particular topic?

For example, your pastor preaches about a particular subject, which happens to be the same topic of a book you are reading, which comes up in a conversation with a friend, and is repeated by your favorite blogger.

Soon you are shouting, "I got the message!"

Or am I the only one? Maybe the Lord knows my thick skull needs multiple reminders to get my attention.

Well, it happened again. And this time the topic is giving.

I'm not even sure where it began. Maybe with a little booklet given to us at church entitled A Little More Could Change the World. The statistics shared were startling. For example, "Christians in America spend $21 billion every year on soft drinks. $13 billion a year would feed every starving person in the world."

Since then, I've been reminded of the command to give to the poor in the name of Christ in numerous ways. And by now, I got the message. I just am not sure what to do with it.

Particularly I've been thinking about Christmas, even though it is only September. We try to keep Christmas simple at our home, but it is hard. It is easy to get caught in the commercialism, give to those who already have more than enough, and feed our children's selfish desire for more stuff. Another quote from  A Little More "For $10 billion we could free millions of bonded laborers. US Christians spend 10 times that much every year exchanging Christmas gifts."

I've hesitated to write about this subject. I keep thinking of all my every day luxuries and the unnecessary purchases I've made the last six months. What do I know about sacrificing to give to others? Nothing.

Do I enjoy a simple life in the country, stretching my husband's income by cooking from scratch and gardening - just so that I can live my picture of the American dream? Or to advance the kingdom of God by sharing my abundance? Thy Hand Hath Provided has been asking some good questions recently on living simply in order to give.

A Little More challenges readers to immediate action. Increase giving by $15 dollars this month. Share the challenge with 10 other people today. Don't wait until you have it perfect. Just start somewhere. So, I'm sharing this message with you.

Please consider how you can be part of God's work in the world.

Go to Good Measure International and ask for a free copy of  A Little More Could Change the World or read it online.

Watch the short video at The Advent Conspiracy.

And if you want a real pull on the heart strings, read of Ann's recent visit to Guatemala. Her words and pictures brought back memories of my visit to that country before I was married. I realize how much I have been caught up in my own little world of diapers and dishes.

I'm not planning to go anywhere. I plan to keep gardening, canning, and washing cloth diapers. I just hope to raise my eyes higher than Thistleberry Hollow to the my lost neighbor, to the town addict, to the enslaved girl in Thailand.
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me. - Matthew 25:40

Friday, September 17, 2010

Question - No sugar and yeast menu ideas

A friend of mine needs to go on a strict diet for her health and is asking for help.

I'm looking for complete meal ideas that are tasty and yet don't include any form of yeast or sugar (this includes anything with high fructose corn syrup, fruits, white potatoes, pasta, etc.). Basically, I'm looking for main dish and vegetable ideas but recipes of any kind would be greatly appreciated. My goal is to make a meal list for 3-4 weeks and then rotate it for about 6 months or so. So I need lots of ideas asap! :) Thanks for your help!
 I know how hard menu planning is for any mom with young children. I can't imagine the added challenges my friend is facing.

You all have been so helpful in the past. Can you help with this question? Thanks!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Frugal Gardening Tip # 8 - Divide Perennials

 Find all the frugal gardening tips at the gardening page.

I've already talked about the cost savings of perennials compared to annuals.

One of the best things about perennials is that they can be divided into many more plants. Whether you are increasing the number of plants from one of your favorite perennials, or sharing plants with a friend, dividing perennials is an easy way to save a lot of money in the flower border.

Dividing your perennials also boosts the health of your plants. Many perennials eventually become crowded and may stop blooming. Some perennials like peonies almost never need divided. Others, like iris, insist on regular divisions. Dividing your perennials every few years, especially if you throw in some compost when replanting, will encourage your plants to thrive.

The best time to divide perennials are in spring or fall. Dividing plants in the heat of summer is possible but will stress the plant.

I generally choose to divide perennials in the spring when they are first emerging. Dividing smaller plants is easier and we usually receive adequate rainfall. I took all the photos in this post back in the spring one day when several friends came over for a perennial swap.

Fall can be a good time to divide perennials as well. Last night I moved some perennials around my beds. I had been waiting for some rain. We had a brief rainfall over the weekend. It didn't do much more then settle the dust, but we don't seem to be getting any great amounts this year. I didn't want to wait much longer because the plants need time to settle and root before winter. I will just need to be more consistent in watering the moved plants if we don't get more rain.

Fall is a good time to evaluate what did and did not work this year - and do something about it! In the spring I tend to be far too optimistic. I forget about the plant that flopped over on it's neighbor, or bloomed for three brief days, or lost it's leaves to sun-scalded. Now, with a realistic memory of plant performance, is the best time for me to make decisions in my flower bed.

Sometimes I walk around with a piece of paper and jot down the plants I want to move next spring. If I can remember where I've put the paper, I have a record of what to move in the spring.

When I worked at a greenhouse before I married, I always had to hide a smirk when someone came in wanting to buy "all perennials so that I don't have to do any work in the flower bed after this year." I hope it worked for them. I do think perennials are less work than annuals since (in theory) they only need planted once and need watered far less often than annuals. But even when I carefully plan a flower bed before planting, I can always see ways to improve it.

I've been known to carry a bloom around looking for the perfect companion plant to grow beside it. I don't know much about garden design but I'm slowly learning what plant combination appeal to me.

And I would hate to not have an excuse to dig in the dirt, so it is really okay with me that my flower bed is a work in progress!

But, to be practical, here is how to divide a perennial.

When you look down at the ground, on many perennials, you'll notice many stems. In the case of this coreopsis, each of these stems go down to their own roots.

I pulled apart the stems, pushed in my shovel, and separated one section of the plant.

Next I dug on the opposite side.

Now I have a new plant to move elsewhere.
The mother plant will quickly grow to her original size.

Some plants send out side shoots that are very easy to dig out - like this garden phlox.

Some plants have more woody stems and need more careful division.

I dug up this entire aster plant and carefully cut the roots in several sections with a sharp knife.

I now have three plants to replant.

The only plants I wouldn't try to divide are more shrubby perennials like butterfly bush, lavender, or caryopeteris.

Hope this makes sense to you. Happy Digging!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Buying Bulk

My husband has been encouraging me to buy more grocery items in bulk. It is not a new idea. I buy yeast in one pound packs and oatmeal in ten pound bags. I try to do a once a month "big" shopping trip with rarer quick grocery shops.

But Ed knows quite well how challenging shopping is with little ones. I thought I was managing three children well, but shopping with four put me over the edge! I love my children dearly, I just don't like taking them shopping!

Ed has encouraged me to think about the items I buy regularly and purchase a six month or one year surplus.

So my first move in that direction was honey.
I buy my honey from a friend who raises bees. A few years ago, one gallon of honey lasted us a whole year. As our family grew larger and I've replaced honey for white sugar in many of our recipes, our honey consumption has rapidly increased. The last gallon I bought did not last much more than two months.

Each time I run out of honey means a call to my bee-raising friend and organizing some way to get the honey from her since we don't live near each other. By purchasing a five gallon bucket of honey (60 lb) I saved myself (and my friend) phone calls, car runs, and general hassle for an entire year or more.

A few more thoughts as I consider making more bulk purchases...

Money - Buying it bulk means a larger immediate cash outlay. Since this was my husband's idea, he generously gave me extra cash to use for these extra purchases.

Savings - But buying in bulk can often mean savings in the long run. My friend generously gave me the wholesale price on the bucket of honey. I'm looking into finding the best prices on other grocery staples.

Quality - Obviously some items can't be bought in bulk because they will spoil before being used. Honey can last indefinitely without spoiling making it a safe choice.

Storage - I have plenty of storage space in my basement but before making any more bulk purchases, I need to get some more buckets. I don't want the mice to find my stockpile!

I already make many bulk purchases. When I buy fruit and vegetables and can and freeze for winter, I'm making a one time purchase to last me a year. My goal is to look at the things I purchase regularly that can be stored (mostly baking ingredients), find the best quality and price, and make some more bulk purchase this fall.

Do you buy in bulk? I love to hear where, how, and any other experiences or tips you can share!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review - Gardening When It Counts

You know you are a gardening geek when you love to curl up with a gardening book on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I own a whole shelf full of gardening books, most picked up at used books sales, and usually can't walk out of the library without another tome under my arm.

I have found that my favorite gardening books are written by long time gardeners. People like Gene Logsdon, Elliot Coleman, Dick Raymond or Ed Smith have years of experience with the soil. They may be opinionated, dogmatic and often don't agree, but usually they have something good to share.

I much prefer these authors to the encyclopedia type gardening book written by a committee. The disadvantage is that they may not have gardened in the same soil and climate as you and the planting techniques and varieties may not benefit your situation.

Most gardening books I read with a sheet of paper and a pencil near by, jotting down helpful tips or new information. Typically, I can skim through a book, scribble down a few lines, and return the book to the library without pangs.

But there are exceptions.

Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)
Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon is one. It was obvious within the first few pages, that this was a book that couldn't be contained in a few lines.  I'm not even sure how to do the book justice in a review. I finished the book, knowing that I would be rereading it many times before I hoped to retain all the information. Solomon has condensed his lifetime of gardening in one book. This book contains a huge amount of research, experience, graphs, and intensely practical information.

It was good I didn't mind opinionated authors. Solomon's advice often goes counter to what (as he states) "Everyone Else" recommends.  In some cases, I knew from my own experience that his advice was good. On other topics, I'm eager to try out his suggestions to see if garden production does increase.

Solomon's experience in different areas (from California, Oregon, Canada and now Tansmania) gives, I feel, a better rounded view of soils, climates, and their effect on gardening. There is enough info in this book to garden about anywhere but the tropics.

I wasn't sure of Solomon's goal with the subtitle "Growing food in hard times." Personally, I weary of doomsayers. But Solomon's thrust was more practical. If cheap oil does end, if irrigation is impractical or impossible, if fertilizers and other chemicals are unavailable and if your survival depends on your ability to grow your own food, Solomon strives to give you the tools to succeed.

So many times throughout Gardening When It Counts, I was saying "I never knew..." I was constantly interrupting my husband's reading (if he were nearby with his own book, the way we usually close our days) to exclaim over some new idea or tip.

For example, I never knew the vitamin content in vegetables depended on the nutrition of the soil. I never knew there were so many ways to salvage a garden in dry weather (wish I would have read this before our summer's drought). I never knew anything about the seed industry until Solomon (a former seedsman and the one who started Territorial Seeds) explains the basics. I never thought of some vegetables as high demand over other low demand vegetables. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Besides chapters on seeds, irrigating, compost, pests, diseases and homemade organic fertilizer, there is a section on each vegetable covering growing details, harvesting and storage,  and seed saving.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book for a beginning gardener. The massive amount of information could  totally overwhelm a newbie. A better choice may be Ed Smith's The Vegetables Gardener's Bible. One of the (few) drawbacks I found on the Gardening When It Counts is the lack of photographs. There are clear line drawings but for a beginner, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible with all of it's photos may be less intimidating.

Solomon does make an effort to simplify step by step for a beginning gardener, even sharing vegetables that a beginner is better off not even attempting without first gaining some experience. If you don't mind wading through a lot of information, or if gardening truly does count to you, if you can't afford to learn the hard way and want to gain from one man's experience, I would heartily recommend this book. Check for it at your library but don't be surprised if you need your own copy of Gardening When it Counts to dog ear in future years.

What gardening book to you find indispensable?

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tomato Varieties

 I know I've not been around much lately. With some sick children last week and general busyness, computer time has been limited.

I do want to give some garden updates - if I can do so without whining about our lousy weather. I'll start with tomatoes.

I planted twelve tomato plants this year. I thought that was a generous number of plants and I'd have plenty to can and give away.

Tomatoes seem to be one thing that we always can grow well. Apparently our soil conditions are perfect for growing tomatoes. The common comment upon seeing our garden is "your tomato plants are huge"!

This year was no exception. Despite the drought and blistering heat, most of the tomato plants towered over me to six or seven feet tall. But the yield wasn't as good as expected. I did give the plants a little water but as the drought continued, I decided to save my watering for other parts of the garden. We got enough tomatoes for some canning, just not the abundance that I expected.

My mother-in-law grows tomato plants for all her girls. She planted quite a few different varieties this year. This year, I actually marked which varieties I planted so that I could know which ones preformed the best. The result of my tiny trial tomato patch are unofficial but interesting, at least to me. If I wanted to do a better trial, I would need to plant more of each variety. Most of these varieties I only planted one or two plants.

All the tomatoes were planted in one row in the back of my garden. All received somewhat the same amount of water (not nearly enough). All were planted deeply in the ground in mid-May and seemed to have good root systems. All were placed in four foot sturdy wire cages.

I rarely have problems with blossom end rot. This year I did, probably encouraged by the weather conditions but I think the soil contributed. I only had blossom end rot at one end of the garden. The first two plants had terrible blossom end rot, the third plant only a small amount and the rest of the row, not at all. I think the garden soil at that end was lacking something. My husband says it needs lime and plans to add lime this fall. I'll mention the varieties that had blossom end rot - but it may not have been their fault!
Bloody Butcher - I didn't choose this variety for them name, but rather because of it's reputation for early fruit with better flavor then Early Girl. This was the earliest tomato in my garden. The fruit wasn't large but it was deep red and definitely deserved it's name. I always knew which tomatoes in the bucket were this variety from the color.

Pink Ponderosa - This tomato was huge, even despite are lack of rain. They also produced more fruit than many of the other varieties. It was only a day or so later to ripen than Bloody Butcher. In an informal taste test with one tester (me) this tomato won hands down. I don't really like raw tomatoes but this one was my pick to add to burgers this summer. Like the name suggests, the ripe color of the tomato is pink. This is on my list to plant next year.

Brandy Boy - Simliar in every way to Pink Ponderosa but didn't produce many tomatoes. Of course, it had a difficult year and maybe it would have done better with a normal amount of rainfall.

Jersey Giant - This is a large paste type tomato. It almost resembled a huge hot pepper in shape. The interior was meaty without many seeds. The one plant I had of this variety produced more than any other plant. I was very impressed.

Amish Paste - I planted this variety for the first time last year. It did so well and almost half of the tomato plants in our garden this year were Amish Paste. If you are familiar with the Italian Paste tomatoes like Roma, visualize a Roma on steroids nearly quadruple the size and you'll have an Amish Paste. Produced well, though not as well as last year. Only one plant had a slight touch of blossom end rot.

Marguerite Paste - This plant was much smaller than the others. I assume it was a determinate tomato. This was also to be a large paste type tomato but the tomatoes this year were quite small but numerous. This plant had blossom end rot very bad, as in EVERY fruit. But I'm blaming soil conditions, not the variety.

Big Mama - I've planted this variety in the past and been pleased with the giant sized paste tomato. I was hoping to compare it to Amish Paste. But this year the fruit were very small, smaller even than Roma and badly inflicted with blossom end rot. I'd like to comparison grow this variety again under better weather conditions and with improved (limed) soil.

I'd love to hear what varieties of tomatoes do well, or not so well, for you. Of course, soil, climate and location can make a big difference in results - but it is always fun to learn from others!

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

School Days- And What I've Learned In the First Two Weeks

We are officially into our second week of school.
Of course, I like to think that we have been homeschooling since the birth of our first child six years ago. Last year we had a very laid back kindergarten and occasionally we did some school work this summer. Reading "clicked" for our oldest in August and now she is often found with her nose in a book. Learning is something that happens all the time in our house with books, nature, endless questions and discussions.

But I was hoping to be more consistent with our formal learning times. The last months have been spent planning, plotting, acquiring books, and scribbling out plans. Teaching my children has been a dream since I was a home-schooled student myself. With such high expectations, I was worried that I'd "crash and burn" these first few weeks.

But I never expected to have this much fun! We are probably still in the honeymoon stage but, so far, the children are eager to start "school" each morning. I love curling up on the couch reading and my heart just melts when I hear them eagerly telling dad all they learned. Can I do this all day and forget the housecleaning?

I am a newbie still wet behind the ears. But I'm hoping if I share a few things that I've learned these first few weeks, that you experienced home-school moms will share your tips!

  1. Value of Habit. I knew my children thrive on routines but we had fallen completely out of any sort of routine this summer. I worked hard to get a good routine going last week. It isn't finely tuned yet, but already there is world of difference. 
  2. Wisdom - I need It. LOTS of it. I don't want to paint a rosy picture of our days. Some days seem to bring out the worse in both mom and students. I wish that all I needed to teach was academics, not the deep down nitty gritty stuff that is the difference of a spoiled selfish uncontrolled brat and a (hopefully) Spirit-controlled wise follower of Christ. And if "more is caught then taught", as the saying goes, then I need HELP! Lord, give me wisdom!
  3. Organization Saves the Day. I had spent time in August organizing life in general, and school in particular. I'm so grateful for every minute spent putting some extra meals in the freezer, school books all on one shelf, photo copies in folder, schedule sheets printed. At this point, with a kindergartner and first grader, scheduling and preparation is minimal. Mostly we just use a daily checklist. Hopefully, I can learn a few things this year that will make planning future years simpler.
  4. Flexibility Save my Sanity. The best laid plans can be adjusted. It became obvious on the first day that school was going to go better if we waited until the one year old's nap time. What we will do when she quits her morning nap is not something that I'm contemplating right now! 
A few other SIMPLE organization tips that have helped me.
Book Bag. We have four or five read aloud books going at one time - and that was in the summer! Yes, we are  slightly obsessed about books here. Add a few school books and we have quite the stack. Keeping them all corralled in a bag along with a folder containing our memory work, has made our read aloud couch time easier. Sticky tabs work well for markers and I write on the tab if I want to read the book a specific day of the week or number of pages.
Memory Verse Review Box. Simply Charlotte Mason has a great idea for memory verse review. I adapted their system a little but the idea is that each day there are verses reviewed. The current verse goes in front, our review verses are filed under the days of the week or date of the month. Each day we say our new verse and review the verse under the day of the week and the date. Hopefully we won't get so rusty on our memory work. I wish I would have done this as a child.

Pencil Basket. I've used this for years, a silverware basket is great for pencils, markers, scissors and all other creative tools. It goes easily to the table, then back to the shelf at clean up time.

If I've learned anything at all in the past six years, it is that mothering isn't easy. I don't think anyone can prepare you for how emotionally and physically draining parenthood can be.

We had told our daughter we would purchase a Bible for her when she learned to read. Yesterday, we gave it to her and since then she has hardly had her Bible out of her sight. All the frustrations of mothering have been rewarded many times over by seeing my daughter's delight in God's Word and her joy in learning to read it.

Are the struggles over? No, way. Are the rewards worth the effort? Absolutely!

Now it's your turn. Any hints and tips you can share with us? They don't have to be earth shattering, anything that makes your day go smoother.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Cream Tart with Pears

I haven't found a lot of desserts incorporating pears.

Maybe because the season for fresh pears is so short.

Maybe because pears are so good just for fresh eating. I have not trouble encouraging my children to eat fruit when there is some fresh ripe pears on the counter. I canned a few pears but kept a lot our for eating fresh.

Several readers have encouraged me to try canning fruit with stevia for the sweetener instead of sugar. When one reader shared her great deal on stevia (which is usually quite expensive) I had to try it. Since pears are naturally sweet, I thought they would be a great way to start. I haven't opened up a jar yet, but I'll let you know the result - and whether I try it again next year!

But back to desserts - I love desserts with pears. We really enjoy the Golden Pear Cake, a luscious way to share the sweet fruit.

I recently picked up Seasonal Fruit Desserts at the library. If you like using seasonal fruits with healthier ingredients (notice I didn't say "healthy" - we are talking about desserts!) you'll like this cookbook as much as I did.

One of the favorite recipes that I've tried, was the Cream Tart. This would be a colorful dessert with some type of berry but was delicious using pears. I like the easy crust that didn't need rolled.
Cream Tart with Pears
Adapted from Seasonal Fruit Desserts

Tart Dough:
1 stick butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour

Beat butter with sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Add vanilla, then flour, mixing just until combined. Spread in greased 9 inch round or square pan. The dough will be soft, more like a batter, but if it is extremely soft, refrigerate for 10 minutes. With spatula, spread out dough, pushing up the sides to make a rough rim.

3/4 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream or plain yogurt)
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 T sugar
1/8 tsp salt
fruit (3 or 4 sliced pears OR 1-2 cups berries)

Whisk all but fruit together. For pears, place sliced pears over unbaked tart dough. Pour cream mixture over pears. For berries, pour cream mixture into unbaked tart dough. Dot berries over the top. For both, bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until puffy and pale gold. Remove even if custard is slightly wobbly as it will continue baking. Serve while warm.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Eat Your Veggies - Chicken and Vegetables in the Crockpot

Continuing to share main dishes featuring lots of vegetables. 

This recipe really isn't a recipe. But it is a meal I make often and I've shared it with others who love the simplicity and the deliciousness!

I cut up my veggies and layer in the bottom of the crockpot. Typically, I use  a mixture of green beans (fresh, frozen or canned) potatoes (raw), carrots (raw) and onions.

On top of the veggies, I layer raw chicken. You can use any cut of chicken. I actually prefer bone in meat for this dish. It seems to add more flavor. This day I was using legs.

Often before I freeze my chicken, I pour a little marinade on the meat. This adds even more flavor to the dish, though it isn't necessary. If the meat wasn't skinless, I usually pull off as much skin as easily removes and discard.

Pour a cup or two of water in the bottom of the  crockpot.  Sprinkle the chicken with salt and any other seasonings you wish. Rosemary, thyme, basil and sage are good choices. You can pour in some Italian dressing, or soy sauce - the variations are endless.

Put on the lid. If you've done this at breakfast, turn the crockpot on low. If it is lunch time, turn to high. Enjoy the wonderful flavor of supper cooking for the rest of the day.

The chicken juices drip down over the vegetables and make this simple meal taste wonderful.

Wasn't that easy? I love fuss free meals and would love to hear your favorite ideas!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Homemade Goat Milk Soap

Like the do-it-yourself-er that I pretend to be - I've attempted making soap. Real homemade lye soap. The whole process of taking a greasy oil, adding caustic lye, and turning it into something that actually cleans, amazes me!

Sadly, my attempts have been less than successful. After three batches of soap, only one turned out, and we had botched that batch up so much that we weren't sure we could never repeat the experience!

Recently, a friend of mine has been making homemade soap with goat's milk. This summer we spent an evening watching Jesalynn make soap. She made the process look so simple and easy!

Nothing beats learning from an expert! I definitely want to try again. I've been waiting until life slows down, maybe next winter? In the mean time, I'm using a bar of Jesalynn's patchouli soap.

Ed says that the patchouli soap reminds him of a woodsy earthy scent. Jesalynn makes lots of different fragrances  and some bars even contain dried flowers and herbs. I love fell of her homemade soap. I have dry skin and react to some soaps. Some of Jesalynn's customers have seen improvement of skin conditions with her goat milk soap.

If you live in the local area, Jesalynn is planning to do some soap making demonstrations this fall. She may even hold some soap making classes this winter. She sells her soap at several local stores. Drop me an email if you want more information.

You can also find Jesalynn's soaps at Homemaid Expressions at Etsy.

Do any of you make your own soap?


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