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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sweet Briar Cottage Journal: Strictly Thrifty

Hello dear friends!   Hope all is well in your corner of the world!  Have to say, this is one of the coolest summers ever, but boy! does it ever produce some beautiful big blooms.

GARDENING

In the garden we harvested cauliflower, kale, beets and strawberries.  We dried the beets and kale and ground them into our stealth health powder.  We used some in guacamole and no one even noticed the added nutrition. :)  I also canned the strawberries.
A simple way to can any type of fruit is to wash and remove the stems, cores (or pits) and skins if needed and slice into small pieces..  In a large non-metallic pot add 1/2 C. sugar for every quart of fruit.  Let stand covered until juice starts to collect in the bottom of the pan, about 2-4 hours.  Heat the fruit until the sugar dissolves and the liquid begins to boil.  Pack into clean sterilized  pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe the rims and place your lids and caps on.  Process in a water bath for 25 minutes. 

We mainly eat fruit desserts, so we use a lot of canned fruits in the winter and early spring.  Here's a simply crumble recipe that works with any of your canned fruit or fresh:

1 quart of fruit (berries, apples, peaches, pears, etc) cleaned, pitted, peeled and sliced
1/2 C. sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch (add an additional tablespoon if the fruit is really juicy)

Combine and place in a greased 8 inch pan.

For the topping:

Combine:
1 C. oatmeal
3 tbsp.  brown sugar
cut in 1/4 C. cold butter.  Sprinkle over the fruit and bake at 350 degrees for  30 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling. 
That's the basic recipe.  You can add spices or nuts.  Wherever you imagination wants to take you.


We also made faux Alfredo sauce with the cauliflower, by whirling some boiled cauliflower and about 1/2 C. of the cooking water   in a food processor until it was smooth.  Added some sauteed onions and lots of garlic.  I played with it a bit and added fresh oregano and basil (you could use dried also).  We topped ours with a bit of Parmesan cheese but if you're vegan it's not necessary.  I don't think it fooled anyone into thinking it was the real McCoy, but it certainly was a thrifty meal, direct from the garden.  And a lot less fattening!

CRAFTS

I made these cute little sun bonnets from this free pattern for our new granddaughter, Violet. The little flower sprigged one is made from a piece of vintage fabric that has violets on it.  The fancier embroidered one is made from some old linens that had holes and stains that I strategically cut around.  And the pink chambray one was made from a  shirt that I bought  when the thrift store was having a sale.  I think they make wonderful inexpensive baby gifts.  Don't you?  And the instructions were very easy to follow.    One dressmaker's secret is to make the lining a hair smaller than the outer garment.  This pulls the outer fabric inward and gives your sewing a professional look. Here's a picture of  little Violet (and I do mean little, just barely six  pounds) modeling one. She's so tiny that the newborn size is too big for her.
BTW, I didn't know I was going to be in the picture or I would have combed my hair and maybe put on some lipstick!  I hate getting my picture taken!

Isn't the internet amazing?  You can find so many free instructions on line.  I'll never buy a cookbook or a knitting pattern again.

THRIFTY DECORATING

I love to bring the green inside during the summer, but more  and more of my garden has been taken over by vegetables  so I no longer have a cutting garden and I can't bear to cut the flowers in the borders.  Besides I have  very limited table space for bouquets and the guys are likely to throw their hats or something else on them.  So I get my green "fix" by tying  bundles of herbs together and suspending them from twine in my windows.

I love the old-fashioned rustic look of them.  Plus they smell wonderful.

FORAGING

 Instead of lettuce, which is bolting and becoming bitter, we've been using purslane in our sandwiches.  We also gathered  and dried it.  We also picked a bunch of woad and dried it to use for dying.  I have a solution going right now.  More on that next week.

LOOK UP!

On June 30th around 9 p.m. Eastern standard time, you can see the star of Bethlehem, which hasn't been seen in our skies for two thousand years. I'll be watching, only it doesn't get dark here until around 10:30.  Hopefully, it will still be visible then.   Stargazing is one of our family's favorite (and cheapest) amusements.


GO OUT AND PLAY!

Speaking of amusements, I've noticed that when you send  children out to play  now days, they just stand around because they don't know what to do with themselves, so I thought every once in a while, I'd give some instructions on common schoolyard games we used to play in the "olden" days, when TV only had two channels  and phones were attached to the wall by a wire. 

Frisbee Golf

Pick an object  in the yard to be your goal.  Also choose something to be your "hazard"   like a hedge or  tree branch.  Each person takes turns throwing the Frisbees  toward the goal and going through the hazard.   The person that takes the fewest throws to reach the goal wins.

EXPERIMENTING

I mentioned in my previous post that Ran and I were experimenting to see how low we could get our natural gas and electric bill down to, by doing things like switching  off the hot water heater every other day and turning off and unplugging all the electrical appliances.  Well, we just got our natural gas bill and we only used $10 of gas for the past month.  The actual bill was $19 because the tack on so many taxes and fees, but we're happy with it.  Now we are experimenting with our water bill.  It isn't the water that is so expensive, it's the sewer fees, which is based on how much water you use.  So we are using "grey" water, such as the cold dishwater, and the water when I'm finished canning to flush the commode and to water our plants.  For me, this is fun, trying to see how far I can stretch a dollar. 


DON'T BUY IT, MAKE IT

I love the scent of lemons, so I made this simple recipe for a solid perfume.  If you're a soap maker, like I am, you'll probably have all the ingredients.   Love that it's all natural and  it's  very portable.  I would use less beeswax next time, though, it is rather hard.

THRIFTY THING WE DID THIS WEEK

Baked dill  bread from our own dill. (my husband made that knife, BTW.)
Harvested beets, cauliflower, strawberries, kale,woad, purslane, and a few onions and garlic.

Made three baby bonnets from material I already had.

Dehydrated beets, kale, woad and purslane.

Canned seven pints of strawberries.

Bought chicken thighs for 99 cents/ lb.  that I'll cook and freeze for casseroles.

Made several meals completely from the garden.

Bought several plants (sedums and lamb's ear) from a garage sale for $1 each.

Found the cutest antique pie stand for $3 at a garage sale.  I love prims!

For amusements we went for walks and visited with neighbors.

It's been so cool this year, we haven't had to use fans or air conditioners.

Salvaged some lace from old stained linens.

Hung the laundry on the line.

Generally, just stayed home and didn't  spend money!


Well, that's it for this week!  Hope  you have a lovely week!

Jane




Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sweet Briar Cottage Journal: In The Valley Of Love and Delight

                                       
Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
~Simple Gifts - Traditional Shaker Hymn~

 Hello dear friends!   Happy first day of summer!  Guess what I'm doing right now?  Waiting for my  granddaughter Violet to be born.  Our daughter-in-law is at the hospital tonight.  One of the greatest joys of my life is seeing what amazing fathers my sons have become.  I was very young when I had my first, just twenty, and I know I made a lot of mistakes along the way in rearing them, but I must have done something right to make them such caring and loving fathers
Another thing I am inordinately proud of is my beautiful foxglove growing in the herb garden!   Usually my foxgloves are puny and anemic looking but  this one I started from seeds I gathered on a walk is so robust, almost as tall as I am! 
Gardening
We made a discovery this year.  In our attempts to keep the groundhogs from eating our Cheddar cauliflower, Ran made a little enclosure for them out of old storm windows and chicken wire for the top.  Well!  That made a nice little hothouse for them and we harvested a nice big head today.
Look at that beauty!    The other cauliflowers that we planted in the garden haven't even formed a head yet. Now my mind is turning.  Maybe next year we can get a jump start on tomatoes.  What if I found enough old windows in the trash to line the entire inside of my garden fence?  Could I plant and harvest earlier?  Maybe I could use the idea to protect my finicky roses?  Who knows where this will end up. 
We also harvested some strawberries.  Tomorrow we will have some buttermilk pancakes with diced strawberries instead of our usual  blueberries. Yum! Store bought strawberries can not compete with  homegrown ones picked and eaten in the garden still warm from the sun.  If I have enough, I will probably can some in a light syrup.  I've sliced and dried them before.  The reconstitute nicely.  

Stealth Health

Speaking of drying food, we dried a bunch of spinach and kale this week. Once they are dry we grind them in an old coffee grinder and it makes a nice powder.  You can use the powder in soups, smoothies and stews,  but another way to use it, is to add it to meatloaf and meatballs.  This is what we call "stealth health"  because you may not like the taste of these veggies, but you never notice it in meatloaf and such.  Anything to add more nutrition!

A Fun Day

On Saturday we held a garage sale.   The weather was perfect and we had so much fun!  It seems that people just want to talk and talk.  I  think we all are becoming more isolated as a society.  People don't go outside and talk to their neighbors anymore, they sit inside and watch TV.  I really feel that TV has been one of the reasons for the downfall of society.  So, when people have a chance to have a conversation and a willing ear, well, they talk!  Everyone was so pleasant, except for one man who grumbled about the skimpy offerings (it was late and we had sold everything) and called our dog fat!   To go about with such a sour disposition all the time.  Well all you can do is laugh!  Every day you have the option of "taking joy"  or being unhappy.  Being unhappy and miserable won't change your circumstances but being joyful can!

We all are down here in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars
~Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan~

Most things were sold for a quarter, but we still managed to make a nice profit and at the end of the day all we had left were two small boxes of books and a bag of clothes for the Salvation Army drop box.   And people went away happy with getting a deal.  One lady said she looks forward to coming to our sale every year!  Oh dear!  I may have started a tradition.
A Thrifty Experiment

Well, I've prattled on and haven't really given you any thrifty tips. This one is way out there, and I don't think many of you will do it, but here it goes, anyway.  When we had our boiler problems, we noticed that our water stayed hot for three days, so we started thinking, what if we turned off the electrical switch to the boiler every other day? So that's what we did.  It's causing us to rethink how we use water.  I've retrained myself to turn the cold tap rather than the hot, when running water  to fill pots and for baking.  Also by being deliberately conscious of the amount of hot water we are using,  we broke the bad habits of letting the water run on full throttle when brushing our teeth and washing up.  Time will tell if we save on the electric and water bill.  But it proves that you can teach an old dog a new trick!

Natural Health

I just received an e-mail from our congresswoman that she is working on a bill to ban microbeads in facial scrubs.  The small "beads"  are just that, plastic beads, and they are too small to be filter out of our water system.  But they sure cause a lot of trouble with our eco-system. Who would have thunk it?!  So I'm experimenting with some natural scrubs that are biodegradeable.  Once I get one I like, I'll let you know.

Thrifty Things We Did This Week
We didn't do much this week because the garage sale  took up most of our time, but we did manage to harvest lettuce, beet greens, spinach, kale, strawberries and cauliflower from the garden.
Dry some herbs and kale.
Foraged purslane.
Baked bread
.
Watch some free movies on Xfinity's free weekend.

And as usual, hang the laundry and eat from the garden and pantry.

Sorry if there wasn't much information this week, garage sales are exhausting!  Hope everyone has a lovely week  and hope to see you the next!

Jane


Sunday, June 14, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: ODDS AND ENDS

Hello dear friends!  Hope you are enjoying your day!  It's been foggy here, but pleasant. Have to say, this cool weather is not bothering the garden any. The fruit trees are just loaded  and everything looks so lush.  Looks like it will be a bumper crop year!

With a Little Help From My Friends

We finally finished decorating our little guest shed.
This is a salvaged window that we bought at an auction.  I love old windows!   This entire project has been done as frugally as possible and we are thrilled with the results.  We  had a lot of help from friends.  The manager at the Farmer's Co-op helped us minimize costs and even lent us tools to shingle the roof.  A complete stranger lent us scaffolding for the roofing.  Ran's friends and former co-workers  at Rustoleum gave us all the paint and primer for the exterior.  And  a gentleman at an estate sale gave us free lumber that we used for the countertop  in the potting area.
We wanted to have a cozy cabin like feel and were wondering what to do with the walls, when we came up with the idea to use luan  that is used for underlayment on wood floors.  Ran cut strips of leftover wood to give it a board and batten look.  We used salvaged paint from the Habitat for Humanity re-use it center and leftover paint for the walls.  We had fun decorating it from attic treasures and thrifted finds.
Even the pretty quilt was a thrift store find.  The bed is built loft-style and there's room under there for lots of bins.   All in all, it was cheaper to build than one of the pre-fab jobbies. 
We are having fun spending time there.  Whenever we want to go on a vacation, we just have to go to our backyard.   Such a sweet serene little spot!

Foraging

This week we are foraging.  The field next to us is resplendent with red clover.  We use it for skin salves and only use it externally.   Others make a tea with it, but you have to be cautious because it mimics estrogen  (which is why I gave up on soy products) and is also a blood thinner.  But this is a good thing to know, in case the pudding does hit the fan, as many are predicting.  It's always good to  have a working knowledge of herbal remedies.

The other thing we are foraging is purslane.
Purslane has more omega-3 than fish.  And it's free!  You can use it in salads or make a pesto with it.  Or just eat it by itself.  It has a nice pleasant taste.

Patience Is A Virtue When It Comes To Gardening

I love lots of flowers, but let's face it, the prices at nurseries are getting outrageous, so I always start some perennials from seed each year. 
This is a tangle of yellow columbine (Ran says the look like fairy wings), poppies and foxglove that I started last year in my "trying out" garden located at the end  of the herb garden.  If I notice a pretty specimen while out for our daily walk, I   return to collect some of its seeds when  they form seedheads.  We have the prettiest hollyhocks that we collected at  a house down the lane.  I even have a yucca that we started this way.  It doesn't cost anything or harm the plants, so why not give it a try?

Another inexpensive way I furnish my garden is to buy plants from mail order sources.  Not the big-name companies but the little known ones that offer you really cheap small plants.  It might take an extra season for them to develop and bloom, but it's worth it to me in savings.

Don't Buy It Make It

This week we dried garlic and ground it into garlic powder.  I suggest that if you want to do this, it is best to do it outside, unless you really love the smell of garlic.  Also on schedule to be dried this week is spinach and kale, which can be dried in the car.  I wrote a very detailed post about drying vegetables  here.  Once the kale and spinach are dried, we grind them in an old coffee grinder that we keep for this purpose.    The powder is great to add to soups and stews, meatloaf mixtures, or to make smoothies.  Anything to add more nutrition.

Quote Of The Week

Better to be neat and tidy than tight and needy.
~common proverb~

By The Way 

With the recent news about the spread of bird flu and many birds being destroyed, it's a good thing to know all the  ways you can substitute other ingredients for eggs.  I keep a bag of flax seeds in the freezer for this purpose.

Pantry Recipe

The other day we bought a cupcake from a little girl running a cupcake/lemonade stand.  We usually eat fruit based desserts  from fruits from our garden, but it was so good, that I had to go home and bake a cake.   This is my go-to cake recipe.  Just the right size for our little family.  And too big, so we don't feel too  guilty.

Small Chocolate Cake

6 tbsp.  cocoa
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 C. hot water
1 C. flour
1 C. sugar
1/2 tsp.  baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 C. shortening
1/4 C. milk or buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

Combine the cocoa, oil and hot water until well blended.

Beat together sugar and shortening until fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Beat in chocolate mixture.

Beat in dry ingredients, adding milk alternately.  Pour batter into a well greased 8 inch square pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes  or until a cake tester comes out clean.
As always, sorry for the poor picture quality.  I am not a food stylist, that's for sure!  BTW, cocoa is a nice  pantry staple,  here's a post I wrote on the subject.

Thrifty Things We Did This Week

Harvested and ate lettuce, spinach, kale and beet greens from our garden.

Foraged red clover and purslane.

Dried garlic and made into garlic powder.

Dried kale and spinach.

Bought some t-shirts for wearing while gardening from a garage sale for 25 cents.

Canned more strawberry nectarine jam.

"Vacationed" at our little shed.

Cleaned out the attic in preparation for holding a garage sale.

Hung the laundry out on the line.

Ate from the garden and pantry.

Well that's it for this week!   Hope to hear from you soon!

Jane








Monday, June 8, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: HOW DO YOU DO?

Hello dear friends!  Hope you are enjoying your June days!  I'm always astounded that the flowers know to bloom, even if the weather isn't very June-like.  We are enjoying lupines, columbine, the last of the lilacs and irises.
Can you believe that all of these irises came from dividing a clump that was about 2 1/2 feet square?  They were really packed in there!  Dividing plants is a thrifty way to landscape your yard.  On the shady side of our house we have filled in the yard with hosta lilies , ferns and lily of the valley that all have come from just a few plants.  It's a very peaceful area, unfortunately  with my lack of photography skills, I have never been able to capture it's true beauty. 

In the vegetable garden, we are harvesting lettuce, spinach, mustard greens and herbs. 
This is the making for a Spanakopita; spinach, chives, oregano and wild leeks.  By the way, I discovered that puff pastry dough is easier to work with than layering phyllo dough.  Still gives you a nice flaky crust.  Our little store didn't have frozen phyllo dough but it did have puff pastry dough.  Go figure!

Also canned stewed rhubarb.
Had to make sure it was well labeled as it looks a lot like asparagus.  It will be good for breakfast with a piece of toast  this winter.  I got the recipe from a state extension website.  **sigh**  The instructions are so silly!   They instructions are so detailed, they even instruct you on how to wash your hands!   Really!   If you don't know to wash your hands before preparing food, perhaps you shouldn't be doing it!

We've been living simply for almost forty years, long before it was fashionable.  As a matter of fact people thought we were quite odd with our canning- wash on the line- gardening lifestyle in the conspicuous consumption era of the eighties.  One friend told us she liked coming to our house because it was like going to a living museum!  One of the questions we have heard time and again is how do you feed all those boys so cheaply?

How To Feed Teenage Boys Without Breaking The Bank

1. Carbohydrates are good!  I know that today, carbs are taboo, but growing active boys need a lot of calories.  They also need  something that sticks to the bones.  Oatmeal is probably one of the thriftiest breakfasts that you can make.  You'd break the bank, buying enough meat to satisfy a growing boy, but you can fill them up with lots of rice, noodles and potatoes.  We grow our own potatoes, but around here, you can buy a 50 pound bag of potatoes for $8 in the fall.  How far does $8 get you in the meat department?

2.  Speaking of carbohydrates, we've found that eating it in the whole grain form is more filling than the refined forms.  So go for brown rice, whole wheat bread and noodles.

3.  A protein is a protein, is a protein.  Meat doesn't have to be the only source of protein.  Beans are cheaper.  Most boys love Mexican food, which can easily be made with beans.  To get a complete protein you need to combine beans with a whole grain.  Which shouldn't be a problem, if you are filling them up with carbs!

4.  Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving.  We bought a turkey almost every month.  It was the cheapest meat around.  Plus we got gallons of broth from the carcasses.  We even skimmed the fat off the top of and made brownies with them.  There was nothing left of those birds except the quack.  Because of the bird flu outbreak, I've read that turkey prices will be rising, so while the are still cheap, I'd buy a few if I had a freezer.  But there's always some form of meat that is on sale.  Lately, I've seen hams selling quite inexpensively.  Large pork roasts are often inexpensive, you can substitute it for beef in stews and soups. Those boxes of bacon ends an pieces are wonderful!  Just a little bacon can add so much flavor to baked beans and soups. 

5.  Check out unusual food sources.  I know that some of the foreign food marts have much cheaper prices on spices and grains.  We used to visit the bakery outlets quite often, back then.  Stores like Big Lots often have some great buys.  Shop with an open mind.  We recently bought some unknown brand coffee at Big Lots for $2.50 a pound!  It was good!  So we went back and bought six months worth and froze it.  BTW, we have very limited freezer spaces, so we reserve the space for deals on butter, coffee, cheese and berries from our garden.  Everything else either gets canned or dehydrated.

6.  Limit milk.  A lot of friends bemoan that their teenage sons can drink a gallon of milk a day. You can limit milk it to just meals.  We kept a jug of ice water in the fridge for quenching thirsts.

7.  Keep the cookie jar filled!  In hard times, it is always good to have comfort foods to help you feel less deprived.  Cookies don't have to be expensive  things with nuts and chocolates.  Many old-fashioned recipe can be made with basic pantry staples, like  sugar cookies, gingersnaps and oatmeal cookies.

8.  Keep the fridge stocked with inexpensive snacks.  I make up pasta salads, cut up celery sticks and carrots, and homemade yogurt.  They make nicer, healthier, and cheaper snacks than bags of potato and tortilla chips.

9.  Popcorn makes an inexpensive snack.  If you pop it yourself (not the microwave type) popcorn is cheap, filling and a good source of fiber.  We experiment with different seasonings to give us variety.

10.  Mainly remember food is just food.  It's purpose is to nourish you.  Try to get as much nutrients out of meals as you can.  Grate carrots and celery into hamburger.  Instead of meat, add more beans to soups and casseroles.  Buy food in it's most natural form.  Don't fuss with unusual ingredients.  Find recipes that use basic pantry staples.  Buy fruits and vegetables in season, or better yet, grow your own.  If you find a deal, find a way to preserve it. 

Thrifty Things We Did This Week

Harvested spinach, lettuce, herbs, asparagus, rhubarb and beets from the garden

Planted 24 Chinese cabbages from seeds that we received as a free sample.

Son Jamie, bought a video game at a garage sale for $1 that he knew was a rare one.  He traded it at a game store for $80 store credit.

Painted a bench with leftover trim paint from the shed.

Re-used the screen door hardware  from an old screen door on a new screen door.

Bought mushrooms at the reduced-for-quick-sale rack and dried them in a pan in the car. Used no energy.

Also car-dried herbs form our garden.

Used the rinse water and water from the canner to water plants.

Harvested and canned rhubarb.

And as always, ate from the garden, hung laundry on the line, ate from the pantry, etc.

Well, that's it for this week!  Hope you all a lovely week ahead of you!

Jane






Sunday, May 31, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: TEMPUS FUGIT!

Hello dear friends!  Hope this post finds you rested and safe.  Can you believe that tomorrow is June?  How time flies!  Today the weather doesn't feel very June-like, had to wear my winter coat for our walk.  But the previous days it was  almost too warm.  The weather certainly is toying with us, but there is no frost in the foreseeable future, so we finished planting our garden this week.  

As you can see, the lettuce is ready to be picked, thank goodness! Buying lettuce was becoming quite an expense.  It is such a joy to go out to the garden and pick our meal.  One new salad for us, is a Big Mac Salad.  Here's the recipe.  I used 1/2 lb. of  hamburger and that was plenty.  It rates right up there with our other kid/man friendly salad, Taco Salad.  To make taco salad, just top your lettuce with crushed taco chips (the broken ones left in the bag), cheese, and chili.  Here's a quick chili, that only takes a few minutes to prepare:

Quick Chili For Taco Salad

1 lb. hamburger
1 med. onion, diced
1 can chili ready tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
1 pkg. taco seasoning

Brown the meat and hamburger.  Add the remaining ingredients and heat through.  You can easily make this vegetarian by skipping the meat and adding a second can of beans.  Also, I find that it helps to add a tablespoon of sugar to store bought tomatoes to bring out their flavor.

You can get more elaborate with this salad by topping it with a dollop of sour cream or guacamole.  Or drizzle it with some salsa.

Don't Buy It, Make It

Most kitchens have the ingredients to make your own taco seasoning.  Here's the recipe:

Taco Seasoning

1 tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine ingredients.  Equivalent to one package.

A picture of my favorite lilac, Beauty of Moscow.  It is wonderfully fragrant, somewhat more exotic then our common dooryard lilacs.

Cheap Beauty Trick

Speaking of fragrances, my favorite perfume  has become entirely too expensive for our poor little budget, so I've discovered that many perfumeries make  matching scented candles and soaps.  If you put them in your drawers, they will lightly scent your clothes for a fraction of the cost.  And the scent will be subtle, so not to annoy your neighbors!

Thoughts  On Gardening

We try to be good stewards to our land and one of the ways we do that is to continuously  enrich our soil.  We have two compost bins.  One that is in the stage of composting and the other that we throw all our grass clippings, leaves, vegetable scraps and wood ash into.  Twice a year we empty the composted bin onto the garden and till it into the soil.  Our village also composts all the leaves it picks up in the fall and gives it away for free to whomever is willing to haul it away.  They make sure we know that there are no grass clippings that might be contaminated with pesticides in their compost.  They also have free mulch, village life is wonderful.  We also make sure to rotate our crops every year. Our goal is to have lovely rich soil the color of coffee grounds that is friable to our elbows.  We're getting there!

Quote of the Week

"To be poor in order to be simple, to produce  less in order that the product be more choice and beautiful, and may leave us less burdened with unnecessary duties and useless possessions ."
~Sanatayana~

I don't know if making strawberry-nectarine jelly is a necessary duty or not, but that is what I did this week.


 Our bulk food store had a deal on nectarines and I already had strawberries, so this jam was a logical choice.  By the way, I buy my pectin in bulk.  For what it costs for a few packages of Sure Gel, I have enough pectin to last me a lifetime.  One way we keep the wolves from the door is always to be on the lookout for a good deal in the produce and meat department and either can or dehydrate them.  How many times have I said that a well-stocked pantry is like money in the bank?  I also canned more asparagus, but let's not talk of asparagus!

Free Entertainment

Most libraries offer summer reading programs for the youngsters.  They really encourage the children to keep reading during their vacation.  There's also vacation Bible school, for those inclined.  When I was a youngster many moons ago, my friends and I would go to all of them, we were very ecumenical! The Baptists had the most fun one with puppet shows and cowboys but I'm afraid my Lutheran one was a snorefest.  Fun isn't in the Missouri Synod vocabulary!

Thrifty Things We Did This Week

Cut down a  dead tree in our yard.  Sawed up enough wood to last for a month this winter.

Canned asparagus and strawberry-nectarine jam.

Cleaned a thrifted purse with saddle soap and it looks like new.

Harvested lettuce, spinach, and asparagus from our garden.

Ate from the pantry and hung our laundry on the line, as usual.

Bought 3 Le Creuset saucepans and one frying pan for $30 from an estate sale.

Mended some pillows that were coming unsewn.

Painted our guest cottage with paint that we bought at the Re-Use It Store and from leftovers in the basement.

Finished planting our garden.


So that's it for this week!  Hope you all have a lovely week ahead of you!








Sunday, May 24, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: MEMORIAL DAY

Hello dear friends!  First, I would like to thank all those that have served and are serving our country and to all their families.  Your sacrifice is never forgotten here!

Well!  Spring has finally arrived in all its rosy and violet glory!  One day the trees were bare and stark, the next the lanes are canopied in soft yellow-green fronds.  As long as I live, I will always be in awe of nature and of spring. The lilacs have begun to bloom, just as they have every spring, cold or not.  How do they know that it is May? 
Lilacs are my very favorite flower and my very favorite lilac is Beauty of Moscow, a pretty double white.  It is acting coy, just popping open one bud at a time, slowly, like popcorn in a warming pan.  Perhaps next week it will bloom.   I guess anything worthwhile is worth waiting for is the lesson I am to draw from it. In the meantime I will enjoy the anemones blooming in the white garden.

Memorial Day weekend is also the official opening weekend of the tourist season around here.  Oh my!  So many people, so much  traffic and noise!  Jamie set out for a walk, but came back after waiting fifteen minutes to cross the street.  Only last week, you could have shot a cannon down Main Street and not hit a soul.  So we retreated to our orchard for peace and quiet.  We have procrastinated in digging a fire pit  for eons, but decided this weekend would be it.  It only took about 15 minutes!  Why did we put it off so long? 
I plan to do a lot of campfire cookery this summer because  a.) it's fun and b.) it saves on electricity.  It also just tastes better.  Even if you can't afford a vacation, you  can vacation in your own backyard.  When the boys were little, we would make up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and sit on a blanket under a tree and read all day or study the clouds.  In the evening we would look for shooting stars and  UFOs  :).   You see, children don't really care about the money you spend on a vacation, what they really want is your undivided attention.  So  never feel sad or guilty because you can't give your children some expensive trip to Disneyland, I couldn't, and I don't think any of my children grew up any worse for not having those things.

Two nearby villages, Caseville and Harbor Beach, held their village-wide garage sales this weekend, also.  We found a few things, not much that was remarkable, just practical.  Ever since they put shows like American Pickers on TV, people have an unrealistic idea of the value of their junk!  But it was fun just to drive around and soak in all the beautiful scenery.  We turned down one country lane and I spotted my dream home!  It was an old farmhouse, silvered and sun bleached.  The old tin roof was falling in.  But I could envision taking all that old wood  and  perfectly rusted tin roofing,   and building my dream home.  After the furnace incident and dealing with zoning laws, I really have a desire to chuck it all and go live in a cabin off -the-grid.  It would just be one big harvest room with a big wood cook stove for heat.  And it would be far away from everything, especially  building inspectors and tax assessors!  And no big flower gardens, just big banks of orange day lilies and of course a lilac bush or two.  Ah well, one can dream can't they?

I said I wouldn't but I did (!)  can asparagus.
I just couldn't see it go to waste.  Plus this year has been a real bear, financially and I'm not about to waste free food!  We still haven't received the bill for the furnace, so we stopped in the plumber to ask for it but it wasn't prepared yet.  But the receptionist was rather cryptic, stating that there were some pretty expensive parts that needed to be replaced.  Sigh!  Then, this weekend our car's "check engine" light came on.  When it rains it pours!   I'm always so thankful for our bountiful gardens and well-stocked pantry to help see us through tough times.  We haven't bought a cartload of groceries in months.  Thank goodness! So don't let anyone dissuade you from stocking an emergency pantry.  You never know when your "times of troubles" may come!

Thrifty Things We Did This Week

Got free compost from the village for our garden. (They mulch and compost all the leaves in the fall and the villagers can take it for free.)
Canned eight pints asparagus.
Bought more canning jars at the garage sales.
Ate out of the pantry.
Hung the laundry out on the line.
Planted corn, potatoes and  pumpkins that we had saved the seeds from last year.
Vacationed at home.
Picked lilacs for floral arrangements.
Gathered things for a garage sale.
Harvested asparagus and yes, rhubarb from the garden (hopefully next week, we'll have lettuce.)
Killed the weeds growing by spraying vinegar with dish soap.










Monday, May 18, 2015

SWEET BRIAR COTTAGE JOURNAL: A TOUR OF OUR URBAN HOMESTEAD

Hello dear friends!   Hope you had a lovely weekend!  The last few days have been beautiful and it looks like today is going to be another perfect spring day.  I'm overjoyed because it means that we can take down the plant light system and reclaim our dining room.  Which means, today I will be cleaning and rearranging.  But before I start on that, I'd like to take you on a small tour of our urban homestead, or farmette, as I like to call it, so many people have asked about it in the past.

We start at the front door.  As you can see leaves are just beginning to sprout on the bushes here, everything is so late because of the brutal winter we had.  Trying to get anything to grow here is a challenge because this side of the house receives the full brunt of the wind directly off of the lake.  This is just a humble little house, less than 1000 square feet.

The south facing side is in another climate altogether.  Protected from the wind, the flowers bloom several weeks ahead of other areas in our yard.  Unfortunately, there isn't much yard on this side, or my vegetable garden would be planted here.

Through the arbor to the back yard.  This arbor is planted with New Dawn roses.  Unfortunately between this year's winter and last year's even harsher one,  the roses have died back to almost the ground and need to be pruned back.  I'm through with roses!  Even the hearty rugosa roses are struggling after the last two winters.  You have to be tough to survive in the north, and that applies to people as well as plants!

Here is an overview of the garden plots.  We have an herb garden, a strawberry plot, a blueberry plot (that's the ugly fencing to the left. The deer love tender blueberry shoots!), a fenced in garden to foil the groundhogs, another plot that isn't fenced, an asparagus patch, grapes and blackberries growing along the fence, and a potato/corn plot. Oh!  and a small orchard with apple, apricot, pear and peach trees.  Our beehive is operable, but the village doesn't allow bees, so for now, it is just a garden accent.
Here's the garden from another angle.  As you can see, the tomatoes are growing out of their cold frame and the onions  and garlic are coming up.  That's my favorite pie apple, Rhode Island Greening, in the foreground.  Along with a meddlar and a Smokehouse  (good keepers) apple tree, these trees have a place of honor in our garden.  The others grow here:
In the orchard!  Altogether, we have about fifteen fruit trees and a hazelnut bush.  When we bought this property eight years ago, there was nothing here, just an vacant lot and a ratty old house (it had been on the market for years).  By working slowly but steadily, we have changed this property into a productive piece of land.  And my husband commuted  here every other weekend for most of those years, so if we can do it, so can you!

A Nice Spring Meal

Strawberries have been inexpensive and plentiful this spring, so we had one of our favorite springtime meals.  Balsamic Strawberry pizza.  I know it sounds strange, but it is really good! (And it uses up some of that jam that you preserved, too!)
Balsamic Strawberry Pizza

1/2 C. strawberry jam
1/4 C. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 prepared pizza dough
a few rashers of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 med. red onion (or any sweet onion)
1 C. cooked chicken breast (diced)
1 C. strawberries, sliced
1 -1 1/2 C. mozzarella cheese

Spread your dough out onto a pizza pan.
Combine the jam, vinegar, and brown sugar in a saucepan and cook until thickened.  Spread on the dough.
Top with half of the cheese, then the bacon, chicken, and onions.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese  and top with the strawberries.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the bottom of the pizza crust starts to brown.

Makes a wonderful meal if you serve it with a nice spinach salad or go totally springtime and forage some dandelions and make a salad from them.

 We always keep some fried crumbled bacon and prepared chicken breast in the freezer.  It's a quick and easy way to prepare a meal when you are in a hurry.  Just take out and heat in the microwave or toaster oven (we don't own a microwave), add it to a salad to make it a main dish salad,  or use them in casseroles or to top a potato.

Don't Buy It, Make It

Pizza Dough

1 C. semolina flour
2 C. flour
1 pkt. dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 C. olive oil
3/4 C. warm water (approximately)

Proof the yeast with 1/4 warm water and the sugar.
In  a large bowl combine the semolina flour, 1/4 C. water, 1/4 C. olive oil and the salt.   Add the yeast mixture and 1 C. flour. Stir. Add the remaining flour and add enough water to make a soft dough.  Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until it starts to fight back (anyone who has made bread knows what I'm talking about).  Cover and let rise until dough is doubled in size.  Punch down and  spread dough into pizza pan.  (makes 2 pizzas) Semolina is the secret to a good crust.

 Projects

Besides gardening, we painted our garden chairs with a mixture of paints that we had in the basement. 
Use it up and make do!  Love those old-timey chairs.  My grandparents had some on the farm, and I remember many a warm summer afternoon  sitting in them under an ancient willow tree.  A few years back, we drove past the old farmstead and the willow was gone.  Everything was gone, except an old chicken coop that my grandfather had built out of stone found on the property and some Model-T car windows that my great uncle had left there during the depression.  Now there's a big grand house on the land and it isn't a farm any longer.  Such a shame,  it was a wonderful farm!

I realized that we are almost half way through the year (can you believe it?), and I haven't finished any of my Christmas knitting projects yet this year!   So I locked myself in my room and didn't come out until I finished this sweater:
Ragg wool doesn't photograph very well.  You'll just have to take my word for it when I say it's adorable. You can't even see the two little pockets that are just the right size  for little toys.  The pattern is from one of those vintage knitting pamphlets and the buttons were salvaged from a blazer that I used for my woolen quilt.  It's a sweater for grandson, Ezekiel. Only took two skeins of wool. If anyone wants the pattern, just let me know, and I'll e-mail it to you.  Haven't figured out to attach the instructions to this post.

Baking

I know, I know, you are getting tired of my rhubarb recipes, but we eat what is in the garden here, so that is what I have.  So here is one last and my favorite recipe for rhubarb.  You can use other fruits, if you wish and I think peaches would be wonderful.

Rhubarb Flip

5 C. diced rhubarb
1 1/2 C. sugar
1/4 C. cornstarch
5 tbsp. water
2-4 drops red food coloring (optional)
1 pkg. yellow cake mix
1/2 C. coconut
1/2 C. nuts, chopped
1/2 C (1 stick) butter, melted

Place rhubarb in a greased  13X 9" pan.
In a small saucepan combine the cornstarch, sugar and water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook and stir until thickened.  Stir in food coloring.  Pour over rhubarb.
Sprinkle cake mix over the rhubarb. Top with the coconut and nuts.  Drizzle the melted butter over top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
I added strawberries left over from the pizza to mine.  And don't forget the whipped cream!

Also eating lots of this:
Harvested six pounds today!  Yes, you can get sick of asparagus! But we are thankful for it, all the same.  Sure beats starving!  I will be glad, though, when the lettuce gets big enough to pick

Update

.We received our electricity bill and it was $20 less (usually $60) since we began turning off all the cable boxes, computers, dvd players, etc. at night.  So we will definitely continue to do that! Just plug them into a surge protector with a on/off switch, then you only need to flip one switch to cut the electricity for all.  We've noticed how little we use the TV, because some days we forget to turn it back on.



Thrifty Things We Did This Week

Attended an estate sale and bought 3 dozen canning jars for $4.
Cut Jamie's hair.
Painted the lawn chairs with a mixture of paint we had on hand.
Finished knitting a sweater for a Christmas present.
Harvested and ate rhubarb and asparagus
Transplanted herbs from the garden.
Started some free Chinese cabbage seeds.
Hung the laundry outside.
Started cross stitching a baby gift from materials I had on hand.
My husband got his cholesterol  checked for free at a medical fair.
Sent away for the parts to repair our car's gas latch.
Since the weather has been nice, we've used a lot more leg power and a lot less gas.


By the way, I got the idea to list my thrifty things list from Brandy at The Prudent Homemaker .  She has a beautiful and inspiring blog.  If you haven't already, you should check it out.