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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Noodle Making

Yesterday I decided to make some egg noodles to dry. The last time I made them, I spread them out on a sheet on our bed, and then they ended up on cooling racks in the oven with the light on. Although they did dry in there, it took longer than I wanted. The oven retained a lot of moisture that was lost from the noodles so there was a lot of humidity in there.

This time, I just put the noodles right on the cooling racks as I made them. The last time I made them they were dry enough to stack by the time they got to the cooling racks, but this time they were still quite moist since they went onto the racks immediately. Because I had more noodles than racks, I laid a paper napkin over the first layer and then put another layer on top. When all of the noodles were made and the racks were filled up, I placed my stack of cooling racks into a laundry basket and then set the basket in front of our dehumidifier.

This morning I woke up and my noodles were as dry as could be! They came off of the paper napkins quite easily too. I then snapped them into the size I wanted them, filled up my mason jars to store them, and into the cupboard they went.

The next time we are hungry for homemade noodles, I will just pop open a jar of my canned ham or beef broth, add some water, a little bit of salt, and dump in my noodles. Serve it with mashed potatoes, corn, salad, and homemade bread, and you just might get a back rub from your hubby. :)

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Reupholstery 101

About a week ago I decided to go through reupholstery 101 on my own. One of the kids's car seats was falling apart to the point where I either needed to fix it or throw it away. The seat was still in safe working order, but the fabric was starting to disintegrate from the sun constantly baking it through the windows in our car. (We don't have a garage.) If you would even touch the fabric, you would get black dust on you. Needless to say, this was starting to get annoying and messy.

When I was younger, my mom did some reupholstering of some chairs of ours. Although I was too young to help out, I did watch. I do quite a bit of sewing and fixing things myself, but I have never reupholstered anything. I didn't think it would be a problem, but I used my aunts advise to take LOTS of pictures of the disassembly when you are repairing something so you will know how to put it back together. This was a very simple project, but I took them anyway - mostly to put on my blog. :)

So here is the overview of my reupholstering. (If you make it to the bottom of the post you will see the cost and time spent for this project.)

Here is the car seat that needed fixing. The fabric on the front of the arm rest is what was falling apart - if it would have ripped all of the way through, the padding of the arm rest wouldn't be able to stay attached.

This is the arm rest fabric taken off. Definitely in need of help.

I used my seem ripper and carefully took apart the pieces, being extra careful to not tear the binding or rip the fabric I wanted to save.

Next I layed out the ripped fabric and also the backing (which was getting rough). I tried my best to smooth them out and pin them in place on the new fabric. It was a bit tricky to figure out how to position the fabric that was shredding.

Here are my two new pieces along with the original fabric that was worth saving.

After everything was cut out, I sewed them back together trying to use the same seam allowances to get the same fit. Then I reinserted the foam and reattached the original binding.

Finally, the car seat is put back together and will no longer leave us covered with black dust!

Like I said, this was a very simple reupholstery project, but it was a good one to start with. The fit isn't as exact as the original, but I had trouble getting an exact pattern off of the shredded material. After all was said and done, I spent less than $2 in materials and less than an hour of my time. Not bad for a "new" car seat.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Great Gifts: Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit - An Illustrated Encyclopedia

I am going to be starting something new on my blog called "Great Gifts". These posts will talk about a great gift I've gotten, a gift that is on my wish list, or a great gift I have given. (At least I think it is great!)

So here is my first "Great Gifts" post.

For Christmas I received a book from my younger brother. All I told him was that I would enjoy a gardening book. He picked one out for me on his own and sent it through the mail since he was currently stationed out East with the Navy. The book I received is called Vegetables, Herbs, & Fruit - An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Matthew Briggs, Jekka McVicar, and Bob Flowerdew.

This book is really a great book. On the cover it says that it is "the definitive sourcebook to growing, harvesting, preserving and cooking". I believe it is all of that, and more. The book contains historical information on the different plants, has great pictures, and has a wealth of information on the different varieties, how to propagate and grow them, maintain them, prepare them, and store them. In addition to all of these things, it also has recipes, medicinal uses, and warnings for various plants.

I have looked through this book a bit already, but I have just scratched the surface of gathering the knowledge contained in it. It will be of great help when I begin my garden planning as well as when harvest time comes. If you go to this link at you can peek inside.

If you can't tell, I am very excited about this book and think my brother did a great job picking it out!

For those of you who like to buy books, don't forget about and where you can get used books in great condition for unbeatable prices.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Our Menu

I had a request for an example menu for a week, but since I do my menus for the month, I thought I might as well show our menu for four weeks.

Breakfast is pretty much the same - the kids and Ethan have oatmeal, and I have eggs or generic cheerios (I'm still trying to acquire my taste for oatmeal.) For lunch we either have leftovers from the previous day, individual freezer meals (homemade from extra leftovers), or a sandwich. So supper is the most exciting meal around our house.

When I plan our menu, I try to stick to the night's theme and also try to keep a variety of meats throughout the week. Here are the themes:

Sunday (lunch)- soup or crock pot meal (supper is leftovers)
Monday- rice night
Tuesday - breakfast night
Wednesday - noodle night
Thursday - home style night
Friday - pizza or grilling night
Saturday - something quick so I can prepare Sunday's crock pot meal

Now that you have my themes, here is a four week menu that I used in September. I will just list the main dish, but if you download the recipes from my previous post, you can see what sides I usually make with each entree.

Week 1:
S- Cheesy Potato Soup
M- Chicken and Rice
T- Pancakes
W- Spaghetti
Th- Baked Ham
F- Pizza
S- Turkey Salad Sandwich

S- Lasagna Soup
M- Enchilada Bake
T- Oven Omelet
W- Goulash
Th- Chicken and Potato Casserole
F- Grilled Hamburgers
S- Pizza Pasta

Week 3:
S- Chicken and Dumpling Soup
M- Tacos
T- Waffles
W- Spaghetti Bake
Th- Homemade Ham and Noodles
F- Pizza Pockets
S- Pot Roast

Week 4:
S- Chili
M- Beef Stir Fry
T- French Toast
W- Turkey and Noodle Casserole
Th- Meatloaf
F- Grilled Pork Chops
S- BBQ Beef

We stick pretty close to our menu for planning and shopping purposes, but there is rarely a month that goes by that doesn't have some things crossed out or switched around. It is nice to have a framework to work off of though, and it helps with planning our food budget.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Recipe Box

Here is my recipe box, at least most of it. These are links to almost all of my recipes that I use. I have typed them out in Word, and hopefully you should be able to download them by clicking on each link and then the "Click here to download" button near the bottom of the page. (Let me know if you have problems.) When I print these off, I print them on card stock. Then I use my handy-dandy paper slicer to cut them into recipe card size then into my recipe box they go.

I like to group my recipes by meat since I try to plan my menus using a variety of meats throughout the week. For each grouping, there is an index card that lists the various recipes in that group, and it also has ideas of what to serve along with a particular dish. Here are my categories and the links:

Beef Recipes

Pork Recipes

Poultry Recipes

Fish Recipes

Misc. Recipes

Side Dishses

Sauces and Seasonings

Bread Recipes

Breakfast Recipes


Here is my disclaimer: I may have typos in some of these recipes, and some of them may need some tweaking or have had tweaking that I haven't recorded yet. So if you see something that doesn't sound quite right, like 1/2 cup of salt in waffles (instead of 1/2 tsp - a typo I did have which I think I fixed!), it might be a typo. If you find a typo or improve on a recipe, I would love to know about it so I can make corrections on my recipes and improve on them as well.

Also, you may notice that some of my categories are a little bare. My husband and I worked at a boarding school at the beginning of our marriage where all of our meals were cooked for us. It was great not having to prepare meals, but I didn't really have much for recipes. I am still trying to expand on our recipe box, and there are some areas where I definitely need ideas!

Here are some things on my recipe wish list:
recipes to add to my bare categories
economical recipes from scratch
heart healthy recipes

If you have any you would like to share, I would love to have them.

Like I said, these links account for most of my recipes. There are many cookie recipes, my newer main dish recipes, and premix cheats that I use (cream of _____ soup, jiffy mix corn bread, etc.) that I haven't typed up yet but hope to get done and add to my blog. Also, if I get a lot of great recipes, I will try to do a follow up post in a couple of months with even more printable recipe cards.

Still to come by request . . . a sample of my menu planning

Friday, January 18, 2008

Food Budget

I just completed entering in the final information for last year's expenses. We have kept detailed records of our cash flow for a couple of years, but last year was the first year where we kept records from January through December. It's interesting that when you start keeping track of what you spend, your spending goes down!

Looking over the year's summary of where our money went to, I was pretty surprised to see our spending for food. The total amount we spent at the grocery store for the year was $1845. That is $153.75 a month. This amount fed my husband, myself, our 3 1/2 year old son who can eat more pizza than I can, and and our 2 year old daughter who has a decent appetite as well. I also checked on our eating out expenses since eating out effects how many groceries we buy. The total amount we spent on food originating from a restaurant came to $442 dollars for the year, or about $37 a month. That number was a little bit higher than I would have liked to see, but my husband reminded me that with his job as an associate pastor there are going to be dining expenses. A number of his meetings are held at restaurants. Also, since the amount for dining accounted for over 80% of our total entertainment and vacation spending, it is really not that bad.

So I was overall happy with the numbers for our food expenses. I feel that part of my responsibilities of home management include cooking healthy, tasty, and well bananced meals for our family, and I try to do that as economically as possible to help our family achieve our financial goals. I try to buy as little prepackaged food as possible and cook a lot from scratch.

I am hoping that as we continue to expand our garden, raise some of our own meat, and as I build up my canning skills, our grocery bills will reflect our efforts.

If you visit back next week, I will try to have a link where you can download my recipes. (I will also probably post a recipe wish list!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Goodbye, Chickens

Well, the day has come. We are no longer going to keep our chickens. Not because we don't want them, but because we can't keep them.

This spring we saw that Des Moines allows up to 30 chickens in town, so we thought that if our state's capital allows them, surely our town would. I guess we were wrong. We got a call today that we would have to get rid of them. All of our neighbors, at least the ones left (a lot of houses are empty around us) have known about our chickens and have thought they were great, especially after they were given eggs. We aren't really sure who would have called about them since they are behind our house and somewhat out of sight, but we do have a lot of people that walk on our street and maybe got a glimpse of their silhouettes through the plastic sheeting. I guess it doesn't matter though since it is a law in our town, and we don't want to knowingly break the law - not that we have a choice now.

The chickens will be joining the farm where our cows are at. I guess we can consider this another part of our experimenting with them. Instead of being in their sun room, they will be inside a building. It will be interesting to see how the change of light effects their egg laying. The weather conditions are pretty much the same at the farm as they are here, so if we keep their food consistent, the amount of sunlight will probably be the main variable. So here's to experimenting.

With the chickens going, we are now left with a tank of aquarium fish and our dog. An encouraging note is that last night the church board voted in favor of selling the parsonage we are living in. The congregation will vote on it in a little over a month. We are pretty confident that it will pass, and then we can start looking for an acreage that will be welcoming to chickens and cows, as well as any other farm animal we would like to work with.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Some Winter Canning

Tonight we popped open a jar of turkey and turkey broth that I had canned earlier this year. I cut up some veggies and we had soup. While I was cutting up the veggies, I decided that I should just keep going and can some. Here is what I ended up with. (I would have had 5 jars but broke one and had to throw out the vegetables too. I'll chalk that up to the learning curve . . .)

These jars contain carrots, beans, corn, potatoes, lentils, celery, and onions. I also added spices so that I could pop open a quart of these, add it to a pint of my canned turkey and broth, and have the same soup that we ate tonight. I really like the recipe and am excited to see how it tastes canned!

This is the first soup mix that I have canned. I am wanting to try more and would love suggestions of your favorites.

Here's the recipe that I used for our soup tonight:

* 1 quart turkey and broth (or 4 cups water, 3-4 chicken bouillon cubes, and cooked turkey)
* 4 cups water
* 1 medium onion - chopped
* 3 carrots - sliced
* 2 celery stalks - chopped
* 3 potatoes - diced
* 1 cup frozen beans
* 1 cup frozen corn
* 1/2 cup lentils
* 1 tsp salt
* 1/3 - 1/2 tsp pepper
* 1/2 tsp garlic salt
* 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)

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Tools of My Trade

This recipe must be pressure canned due to their low acidity in order to kill all bacteria that would cause dangerous food born illnesses. They can be safely canned by using the recommended times and pressures given for your altitude. I have a couple older Mirro pressure canners given to me that work wonderfully, and my mom has a newer one that she loves as well. If you do some asking around, you might find someone who has given up canning and has one available, or you can look for one like the one pictured below. It should hold around 9 pint jars or 7 quart jars.

I also have some canning tools that are invaluable. The wide funnel helps keep messes to a minimum when filling jars. When I heat my lids, I just drop them into the hot water of my canner and then lift them out with the magnetic wand. The jar lifters are great for getting those hot jars out of the canner as well. You can buy these tools separately at many stores, or you can purchase them in a kit which contains other useful canning tools, such as the one pictured below.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Clutter Challenge

Back in October, I present a challenge for you. You can read more about it here.

For the short version: My theory is that it is not the number of people that are in a family that determines the size of a house needed, but it is the amount of stuff owned that causes people to think they need more living space. So my challenge was to get rid of stuff, and I gave some pointers on how to get started.

Since I do this at least once a year, I didn't think that I would come up with that much. Boy was I surprised. I didn't even have much time to dig through as many boxes, drawers, cupboards, or closets as I was hoping to. I still ended up with a lot of things that are going to leave our house.

Here is the final picture of what I gathered. Everything you see - the boxes, bags, and furniture - is going. Also to be added are a couple boxes of electronic items that my husband wants to sell. I have 3 categories of items that are going out - things to give (These will go to Goodwill, freecycle, or back to the original owner), things to sell (We just do e-bay. Garage sale type things just get given away), and things to throw away (Not regular garbage and trash, but things we were holding on to that aren't worth selling or fit to give away.)

Since it is our hope to move out to the country in the near future, I think that I am going to keep this going continuously rather than having sporadic rampages through the house. I will just keep three boxes in the basement labeled Give, Sell, and Throw and will empty them as they fill. As much as I found on this declutter round, I am sure that there is more that will continue to surface.

Now the trick is getting this stuff out of the door and preventing more from coming in!

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Our Winterized Hen Pen

Since this is our first year with backyard town chickens, we weren't really sure what we would do for wintering them over but still wanted to give it a shot. We have been going back and forth for quite a while trying to decide how to give them a winter house.

After our garden was done this fall, we started to move our chicken pen around on it so that they could do some fertilizing and clean up. We had planned to move them off of the garden and beside a shed where we would make modifications for their winter home, but the snow came before we got around to moving it. So the chickens have been sitting on the garden in their pen just as it was this summer, with the addition of some hay thrown inside to keep their feet off of the frozen mud.

They seemed to be pretty content there though. They hopped down during the day to scratch around and are continued to give us eggs. We have heard (and I experienced while growing up) that egg production drops quite a bit in the winter due to the shorter days. Although we have been getting a few less eggs than in the summer and fall, it wasn't as dramatic of a drop as I would have guessed. I think that it helps that they don't have solid walls around them. They get as much light as the day gives - from the time the sun comes up until when it goes down.

Even though the girls seemed content, I started to feel a little sorry for them as the snow piled up around their cage. We want to practice good animal husbandry too so I decided to take a trip to Walmart to see if I could find anything to use for winterizing their home a bit more. I had seen a great idea for a chicken sunroom from Sugar Mountain so I thought maybe we could do something along the lines of that. I ended up finding some 2 mil plastic wrap for about $2.00 that I thought we could try. I could have spent quite a bit more for higher mil, but I decided that since it wasn't going to serve as an insulator - just a wind break and sun catcher - spending the extra money wasn't necessary.

After bring the plastic home, my wonderful husband helped me wrap it around the cage, secure it in place, and retarp the top. It isn't exactly like Sugar Mountain's, but we don't have the time or materials to make a solid night house and daytime sunroom so this will have to do.

It does seem to be serving it's purpose though. I crawled inside of it on a day when it was 6 degrees to take this picture. I felt quite cozy and it looks like the hens did too. I wish I would have had a thermometer because there was definitely a temperature difference - the water didn't even have ice in it. The chickens are down and scratching around more during the day now, and we are getting 3-4 eggs most days with just 5 hens so I think this will do for this year.

Next year we want to try another design for our hen pen, and now we know a bit more of how to keep winter in mind while designing it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Site Update

For those of you who like feedburners, I have now added one to my blog. If you prefer to subscribe to blogs rather than continually checking for new posts, check out the left side of my page. You will find the feedburner link there.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

New In the Kitchen

I have had my eye on some new kitchen appliances this year. Since my birthday falls shortly after Christmas, this year I thought I would ask my husband and our parents to join funds and also join my Christmas and birthday gifts to help me get these. Although I hoped I could check them all of my list, I didn't think that I would actually get to.

As it turned out, I was blessed with gifts beyond what I deserved! Now you will find three new helpers in my kitchen: a Nutrimill grain mill, a KitchenAid mixer, and a Cuisipro batter dispenser.

My Nutrimill will grind grains extra fine to course. It's main use will be for grinding wheat berries to make wheat bread. Freshly ground wheat is so much more nutritious than the wheat flour that has sat on the shelves. It is also more economical to grind it yourself - minus the cost of the wheat grinder - which is why I wanted it as gift rather than just buying it. Ethan and I have talked about how it might be fun to even try to grow our own wheat someday. (Has anyone had any experience with that?) In addition to grinding wheat though, it can also grind quite a variety of other grains including beans and corn. I have already ground some lentils to hide in other recipes (great fiber!), and I plan on using it to grind corn for cornmeal (they say popcorn works best!). It will be fun to see all of the new things I can do in my kitchen with this. See here for more information about grinding wheat at home.

The KitchenAid mixer will not necessarily do new things for me, but it will help me do what I do quicker and more efficiently. This is important to me since it will free up some of my time. Time is precious when you have children who grow up quickly! I will also be able to make our own bread again. I have had migratory arthritis in all of my joints for the last month so kneading bread for 20 minutes isn't a pleasant activity. (We're still trying to figure out what is causing the arthritis - hopefully it's just viral which lasts up to 8 weeks.) With the arthritis and my month of poison ivy this fall preventing me from bread making, the KitchenAid is quite the helper!

Last but not least, the Cuisipro batter dispenser will be of great help for our breakfast night. You just fill it with the batter, squeeze the handle, and out comes the batter according to the amount selected. It can be set for pancakes, waffles, muffins with blueberries and chocolate chips, and cupcakes. Since I am not the most graceful in the kitchen, this will help contain some of my messes! (*Later note - I don't use this much anymore.  It's hard to clean and doesn't hold much batter before needing to be refilled.  It might come out if I have little ones that want to help make cupcakes or muffins, but I think I might stick with a measuring cup and pouring.)

Tools of My Trade

As mentioned above, my Nutrimill will grind grains extra fine to course. It's main use is for grinding wheat berries to make wheat bread. Freshly ground wheat is so much more nutritious than the wheat flour that has sat on the shelves. It is also more economical to grind it yourself, minus the cost of the wheat grinder. (I put my wheat grinder on my Christmas/January birthday list and asked gift givers to go together on it.) In addition to grinding wheat though, it can also grind quite a variety of other grains including beans and corn. You can even make your own cornmeal (they say popcorn works best!). See here for more information about grinding wheat at homeYou might be able to find a nice used one on e-bay, or you can purchase one new as in the link below.

My kitchenAid mixer was another jointly given Christmas/birthday gift.  It's most common use is for making bread, 3 loaves at a time.  The dough is worked entirely by the mixer with the dough hook, including the 10 minutes of kneading time.  The only hand work is dumping in ingredients and then forming the dough to fill my loaf pans.  I also use my Kitchen aid for mixing cakes, cookies, quick breads, for whipping . . . well, just about for all of my mixing! These can be found used on Ebay or you can purchase one new as in the link below.  I would strongly recommend getting the 5 qt, 325-watt mixer.  I have had friends get the smaller one and have been disappointed with the volume/motor capabilities.

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