Friday, March 22, 2013

Blogging Break

I'm going to be taking a blogging break and enjoying some off-line time.

Feel free to peruse the archives for recipes, book reviews, and gardening information.

Be back again in April!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Seed Saving - Part 2

Yesterday we talked about properly saving seed from year to year.

But often when gardeners talk of saving seed, they are referring to growing their own seed, instead of purchasing seed.

I'll come right out and say that I have little experience in growing my own seed. I've made attempts at saving pumpkin, corn, and bean seeds. But typically, I'd rather allow the experts to do the work of growing seeds.

And I don't think I'm just being lazy.

Often I hear gardeners, usually newbies, excitedly proclaim that they are purchasing heirloom seeds so that they can save their own seeds and never have to buy seed again.

The goal may be a good one, but it isn't as easy as it sounds. Please, before you try growing your own seed, do your research. Read a book such as Seed to Seed by Susan Ashworth.

There is two problems with growing your own seed, cross-breeding and in-breeding.

But first, some seeds are easy to grow. Beans, peas, tomatoes, and lettuce are examples of self-pollinating vegetables that are rather simple to grow. Lettuce can cross-pollinate if it is grown near another variety, but basically these vegetables are rather problem free. Get a few tips from a book like Seed to Seed, and have fun.

But other vegetables are more complicated.

For example, cucurbits, the family of vegetables that include melons, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers, are pollinated by insects. To prevent in-breeding the blossoms need to be fertilized by pollen from a different plant. Bees and other insects are quite happy to visit the blossoms and share the pollen from plant to plant. BUT if that plant happens to be from a different variety, or worse, a different vegetable all together the seeds will share genetics from both of their parents.

Let me make this clear that you can plant squash, melons, and cucumbers together in the same garden. They can wind their tendrils over each other and produce wonderful squash, melons, and cucumbers. This year's fruit is not affected. But if you save those seeds and plant them next year, the result is likely to be a cucumber flavored watermelon, or a squash shaped cucumber.

If a friend offers you seed from the wonderful pumpkin they grew, don't bother planting it unless you are sure they had no other vining plants growing within the flying distance of a bee.  Or unless they are a fledgling plant seed grower who knows how to isolate a pumpkin flour with netting so that no bees pollinates it, and hand pollinates their pumpkin blossoms with a paint brush.

Yeah, too much work for me to grow my own pumpkin seed.

The other problem with pollen-exchanging vegetables is inbreeding. Plants like corn and cabbage need a sizable gene pool to properly pollinate - maybe as many as 200 plants. I don't know about you, but I'm not growing 200 cabbage plants just to provide myself with seed for next year.

So, I'm back to buying the best quality seed that I can, storing it properly for several years, then gratefully buying more seed from a good seedsman.

But maybe I should grow the easy seeds, like beans and tomatoes. In fact that might be a good project for my children this summer...

What about you? Do you grow your own seed?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Saving Seeds - Part 1

Saving seeds is a great way to save money in gardening. Right?

Saving seeds can mean different things. I have received numerous questions about saving seeds. And I'll address the two ways to save seeds today and tomorrow.

Here is the first question.

We usually do not have space to plant every seed in the packet. What do we do with the rest of the seeds?  - Margo

Good question. Buying seeds instead of plants is a great way to save money. For example, a pack of zucchini seeds will give you 20 or 30 zucchini plants, for the same amount of money that you would purchase one or two zucchini plants.

But if I can only use one or two zucchini plants and the rest of the packet of seeds goes to waste, I haven't saved any money.

Thankfully, many seeds are good for several years. I will even buy a larger pack of seeds then I need because it reduces the cost to purchase a larger amount in most mail order catalogs. A half a pound of beans seeds cost less per unit than a small pack of 100 beans seeds. I purposely plan to use the seeds for several years.

But unless seeds are stored properly, they will lose their vigor and not germinate well. And no money is saved.

The key to seed storage is cool and dry. If you store your seeds in a warm, humid environment, they will rapidly decrease their life span. Seeds also do better if their temperature and moisture content does not vary much.

Do your best to keep your seeds dry. That means not letting your seeds lay out by the garden overnight to collect the dew. (Yeah, I've done that.) Carry your seeds to the garden in a bucket to keep them off the damp earth and get them back indoors quickly. If they do become damp, dry them well in a sunny spot, but they may have already become damaged.

Store them in the coolest place you can manage. A cool bedroom closet or basement (as long as it is not damp) can work well. Some gardeners keep their seeds successfully in an air-tight container in their refrigerator.

My mother-in-law keeps her seeds in the freezer. I liked that idea better than the fridge, because fridge space is in high demand. Since my mother-in-law has grown her own plants from seeds for more years than I've been alive, and has beautiful gardens to prove her green thumb, I have followed her advice. I have had great germination rates for numerous years with the seeds that I've kept in the freezer. I try not to fluctuate the seeds temperature any more than necessary, only removing the seeds I need, and placing them back in the freezer as soon as possible.

Another reason to store your seeds in an air-tight container is the four-legged friends. One year I placed my bag of garden seeds in my cool, dry basement. When I had prepared the soil and wanted to plant garden, I found that the mice had gotten into the bag and eaten all the sunflower and corn seeds! I had to take a quick trip to the garden center before I could finish planting the garden.

Do you keep seeds from year to year? Where do you keep your seeds?

Next time...another aspect of seed saving.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Winter Reading

It has been months since I've shared the books I've been reading. And it is not that I haven't read any good books. Here are a few favorites from the past months.

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriot Beecher Stowe
A nation-changing classic that I had never read but, under persuasion of  my book club, I got it finished. And now it is on my list of favorite books.

West with the Night - Beryl Markham
Another book club read (Book clubs are  great places to encourage a person to read a variety of books. I'm crazy enough to be in two books clubs right now!) Beautifully written memoir of flying in Africa during the 1920's.

Crazy Love - Francis Chan
A great reminder of God's great love for me - and my responsibility toward God.

Gardening When It Counts - Steve Solomon
A reread of a terrific gardening book. This is one book I should read every year before the gardening season.

In His Image - Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy
Combines the experiences of a missionary doctor to India's lepers with fascinating descriptions of the human body and analogies to the Body of Christ.

The Scent of Water - Elizabeth Goudge
A lovely visit to an English village and the changing relationships of its inhabitants. Goudge is a new author to me, though she wrote fifty years ago. I'll be looking for more of her books.

What books did you enjoy reading this winter?

As usual, I don't condone everything in these books. Every book needs to be compared to the Word of God. This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reacting vs. Planning

Some days I'm convinced that the secret of efficiency is a little planning.

When I spend my days reacting to circumstances, I run in circles. Of course, a lot of a mom's life is going to require a lot of reacting to circumstances. The dirty diaper, the spilled milk, the weeping child. But sometimes a little planning could spare me much frustration.

I'm going to share the success of today - only if you don't get some false idea that every day is like today.

Today is worth mentioning because it is unusual. Today I did do a good job of planning. And I'll be able to enjoy the results for days to come.

I have three children approaching birthdays. Birthdays can put me in a bad mood. I don't do birthday cakes well. The grand idea I have in my head rarely translates well into butter, flour, and frosting. It doesn't help when I begin too late and attempt to frost a warm cake. Add in an extra trip to the grocery store for a forgotten item, and then repeating the scenario for a couple more birthdays within a few days and I turn grumpy.

I wanted this year to be different.

It began with Saturday. I actually searched my pantry for cake ingredients before going to the grocery store and acquired all needed ingredients.

Or actually maybe it began earlier in the week when I asked the children what kind of cake they wanted this year. And wrote it down.

This morning my phone rang early. A friend from church had heard that we had all been sick last week, and are still in recovery mode this week, and wanted to know if she could help. What a way to brighten a Monday. I didn't know what to tell her to do, so she said that she would bring over our supper. What a blessing.

Now I had my meal planned and an empty afternoon. How about baking cake?

I pulled out my ingredients, cake pans, and cookbooks. I started with an angel food cake, because it required a clean bowl. I kept throwing ingredients into that same bowl and sliding cakes into the oven. Two hours later, four cakes are cooling on the counter. Sure I had some messy dishes on the counter, but not nearly as many if I had done each cake on different days. I plan to freeze the cakes, making them easier to frost.


Birthdays are already looking a whole lot more manageable.

What are ways you have found that a little prior planning saved you hours of time?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hot Sticky Sandwiches - sourdough style


Several of my friends have made a hot sticky ham sandwich that are out-of-this-world good. Though these are tiny, I can hardly keep myself from over-indulging myself when these are on the table. These are perfect for a baby shower, brunch, or sometime that you want to serve something small but delicious.

I had always seen these made with purchased party sized rolls. Since my husband loves my sourdough bread with ham and cheese sandwiches, I decided to see if I could make small sourdough rolls. (I used the soft honey wheat sourdough recipe but you could use any bread recipe that you like.) It couldn't have worked better. I've served these to friends several times since then and no one has complained about either homemade rolls - or sourdough!


To make the rolls, I used a very small biscuit cutter to make 24 rolls in a 9x13 pan. You could also just shape the rolls by hand without rolling and cutting. Just keep them small and thin because the rolls will rise and you don't want the sandwiches to be all bread!


After baking and cooling, I cut the rolls in half.


Then I layered ham.


Then added cheese and the top of the roll.


I poured on the sauce and baked.

If you are not a stubborn do-it-yourself-er like me, you  can use purchased rolls. I also used honey instead of brown sugar, but you can do as you please.

Hot Sticky Sandwiches

24 party sized rolls. purchased or homemade
1/2 lb chipped ham
1/2 lb chipped Swiss cheese

Layer sandwiches in 9x13 pan.

1/2 cup butter
1/3  cup brown sugar OR 1/4 cup honey
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp mustard
2 tsp poppy seeds

Place in small pan and heat to boil. Simmer for 2 minutes. Pour sauce over sandwiches. Bake, covered, for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sunday Chicken and Oven Rice

It is so nice to come home Sunday to the fragrance of lunch all ready in the oven. But I don't like to spend a lot of time Sunday morning in food prep.

For some families, Sunday lunch is a big family meal. I like to serve something special for my family, but since I haven't been willing to spend a lot of time on the meal, it is often something very simple at our house.

When we were first married, we ate a lot of leftover pizza for Sunday lunch. I made pizza Saturday evening and we had enough leftover for the next day. Children put an end to that plan. I still make pizza Saturday evenings, but typically there are few leftovers.

I've been on the look-out for recipes that I can prepare on Saturday and put in my oven Sunday morning on time bake. Extra points went to recipes that were favorites for the whole family. "Sunday chicken" won on all points.

My friend Carolyn taught me how to make rice in the oven. Since my oven is already on for the chicken, it works perfectly. I usually steam some broccoli or peas when I get home from church. I can have lunch on the table before the children have their clothes changed.

Sunday Chicken

1/2 lb chipped beef
3 lb chicken breast
2 cans of cream soup (I use a batch of homemade soup.)
1 cup sourcream
bacon slices, lightly fried

Place chipped beef in bottom of 9x13 pan. Cut chicken breast into serving sized pieces and layer on top. Mix soup and sour cream together and pour over chicken. Place bacon on top. Refrigerate overnight or bake immediately. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 hours, covered. Serve over rice.

Oven Rice

1 cup brown rice
1/2 tsp salt
1 T butter
2 cup boiling water

Place all ingredients in covered baking dish. On Saturday evening, I can put in all the ingredients except for the water. On Sunday morning all I have to do is boil some water, pour it over the rice, and place in the oven. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 hours. Serve. (I usually double this recipe for our family.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Giveaway - My Memories Digital Scrapbooking

Sometimes I need to admit that the realities of life mean that I need to give up things that I once enjoyed. 

Once upon a time I spent hours every winter scrapbooking photos. I loved looking through the photos from the past year, reliving memories, and creating scrapbooks to preserve those memories. By committing some time to the project each winter, I was able to stay "caught up." 

But somehow, with four children, homeschooling, and everything else that life brings, scrapbooking has been abandoned.

A few years ago, I realized that if I ever was going to complete another scrapbook page, I had to learn to streamline the process. Digital scrapbooking seemed to be a good option. No more shopping for the perfect embellishments. No more covering the dining room table with photos, paper, and stickers. No more waiting to develop photos. No more spending hours just sorting through the box of scrapbooking supplies for something that I know is there somewhere.

This winter, My Memories asked if I wanted to review their digital scrapbook software. It was a fun opportunity.

I should make it clear that I am computer challenged. I'm grateful for a techy husband who can help me get out of my computer jams. Any digital scrapbooking program was going to have to be rather simple to use for me to like it. 

And I was pleased with My Memories Suite scrapbook program. After the first panicked ("How do I do this?")  I watched some of My Memories tutorials which quickly made me think  "I can do this!"

The scrapbook software includes lots of album and page templates with many more kits available for purchase. Or you can design your own page templates

My husband wanted me to make an album with the photos from our house addition we built in 2011. He wanted just a simple un-cluttered layout with only a few accents. We designed a simple page, then were able to multiply that page as many times as needed, just adding in different photos and journaling. We were able to make an eighteen page album about our home addition project simply and quickly. The pages weren't award winning or anything, but I was thrilled to have chronicled the project in a way that delighted Ed. 

One of the things I really liked about My Memories Suite scrapbook software  is that all the pages of the album I was working on show up on the bottom of my screen. I could easily jump between pages, or even change the order of the pages in the album.


I'm looking forward to using some of the templates and embellishments to make pages for my childrens' long abandoned albums. (Should I admit that my almost four year old does not yet have a baby album?) With all the page elements put together for me, I think the project will come together quickly. 

Now for the Giveaway - My Memories will share their scrapbook software with one of you! Free! Just go to My Memories and take a look around. Choose your favorite digital pack or kit and then come back here, leave a comment, and tell us which was your favorite. Your comment will enter you into the giveaway. 

Remember to leave an email address  so I can contact you if you win! 

The giveaway will be open for one week. Winner chosen by

Monday, March 4, 2013

Cinnamin Biscuits

Sometimes I hunger for a cinnamon roll but lack the time to make them. I can turn a batch of biscuits into Cinnamon Biscuits in less than thirty minutes. They are not as good as yeast cinnamon rolls but they meet the needs of a warm sweet treat on a cold morning.

This is another variation of the Whole Wheat Biscuit recipe. But of course, you can use any biscuit recipe that you like.

Cinnamon Biscuits

3 cups whole wheat flour (or a combination of wheat and white flours)
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 tsp honey or sugar
1 1/2 cup buttermilk, plain yogurt, or kefir
soft butter
brown sugar

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in mixing bowl or food processor. Add butter and mix or pulse until butter is pea size or smaller.

If using food processor, dump flour mixture into a bowl. Add honey and buttermilk and mix briefly with a spoon. Do not over mix.

Turn onto a floured counter and pat flat into a 8 x 15 rectangle. If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle with flour and fold like a letter, then pat flat again. Spread with soft butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar.

Roll up dough. Biscuit dough isn't as easy to work with as bread dough, but if it tears, just smash it back together. A bread blade helps lift and roll it.

Cut into 12 pieces.

Place on a greased cookie sheet. If you wish, brush tops with milk. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes. Spread with glaze if desired. Serve immediately.


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