Friday, September 27, 2013

Eat seasonally

Everyone knows produce is tastier when it is in season.  It's cheaper too!  I'm super busy this weekend but thought I'd share a chart I found online about what is in season when to get the best tasting produce at the best price.

This restaurant, The Accomac, shared this chart on their website/blog and it has a lot of great information!

Now, get outside and enjoy the weather while we can still enjoy warm and sunny weather as opposed to cold and snowy!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It's catching on!

This morning, as I was trying to get my first cup of coffee in me, the Today show was on in the background.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard a teaser about "Food Conservation".  Of course, my interested was piqued.  I had to get some coffee in me during the commercial break though so I could actually comprehend it...LOL

They pretty much did a Magic Chicken!  I loved, loved, loved it!  You can watch it here.  

I wanted to share this here, not to brag, but because it is relevant that the national news and shows like Today are not only not poking fun at those of us who cook this way but they're showing others how to do it too.  We've all noticed the sharp rise in food prices in the last few years...we've not noticed an increase in wages to match them though.  

I think it is important that we get back to learning to not just cook at home, but to know how to stretch the food dollar to it's maximum potential to feed our families.  I don't foresee the prices coming down anytime soon so it is on us to learn this.

Now, I think I might have choked on my coffee if they'd called it "Magic Chicken"  LOL!!!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ahhh, Fall weather

This weekend, my son's football team had a double header followed by a parade.  We'd had such crappy hot weather lately that I hadn't really been looking forward to it.  It's tough to watch the little kids out there with all that gear on in such blistering heat!  Anyway, it was such a welcome relieve that the weather broke and we went from extremely hot to high 60's over night.  I know, welcome to Indiana weather!  The boys played hard and won both games.

I love Fall!  It's not too hot, it's certainly not snowing (most of the time anyway, it is still Indiana), you can break out the light jackets and have a bonfire.  Fall food is pretty awesome too.  Weenie roasts, s'mores, stew, chili, soups.  I love making fall food.  The house always smells so wonderful.

Last night, I was going to break out the beef broth and make some veggie soup.  I'd lost track of my stock supply and was actually out of beef stock.

 ***Side note, there is a difference between stock and broth, I use the terms interchangeably even though I shouldn't.  There is a long-drawn out definition of the difference on the Cooking Geek that you can read here.  Just know that for me, they mean the same thing.

So I realized that I was out of beef stock and made a change to chicken and dumplings for dinner as I still had chicken stock on hand.  But supplies are low!  LOL.  That's another nice thing about Fall doesn't heat the house up to unbearable levels to have a pot of stock simmering on the stove.

This week, I am going to make stock.  It's pretty easy and oh so yummy.  I get soup bones packaged up when I have our beef butchered each year but you can talk to the butcher at your favorite grocery or butcher shop and ask about soup bones.  They should be really inexpensive.

I actually season the soup bone with salt and pepper and brown it in a skillet with a little bacon grease to kind of carmelize the outside of it.  I then put the bones in the big stock pot and add whatever veggies I have in the drawer.  Carrots, celery, onions, celery leaves, green peppers and garlic all go in and I'll add salt, pepper, a bay leaf, some thyme, basil or whatever else strikes me as needing to go in.  Then I fill the pot with water.  Bring it to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  

Do not be alarmed if you get icky, foamy stuff at the top, just use a slotted spoon and scoop it out, not a big deal.  I will let this simmer for a very long time, maybe a couple of hours.  It will reduce quite a bit, that's why I use my biggest stockpot.  I will taste it as I go as I use the taste of it to determine when it is done.  I don't think there is any set time that you leave it on simmer.  I think it is done when it tastes like beef broth that I want to eat veggies in.

I let it cool for a little while and then strain it to get the remains of the veggies out.  Then I will put it in Ziploc bags for the freezer.  Be sure to get the air out as best as you can, this will let them lay flat.  Also, as always, label and date what it is.

This is not only a stock that tastes so much better than store bought, it is MUCH cheaper and you know what is in it and if needed can control (or totally omit) the salt if you need to.  I can almost smell it now.  Making stock is on this week's agenda and I can't wait to smell the house as it is cooking.  It's definitely a "Fall" smell for me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Together, we can accomplish miracles!

I have talked about my Mom's group before and truly feel they are an amazing group of women.  Included are women of all walks of life and in all stages of life.  What do we have in common?  We are Moms.  We care about children and families.

A couple of days ago, a fellow Mom who happens to be a teacher shared a story with us.  I'd like to share it with you:

"What is $0.30?  This quarter and nickel is a symbol of love, a symbol of gratitude, and a symbol of selflessness.  How?  I will explain.  A very poor 7 year old girl approached me this morning with her fist clenched.  She told me she had a gift for  me.  She went on to say that she had nothing that was special enough to give me but she wanted to tell me thank you for loving and helping her.  She opened her hand to show me these coins.  She then explained it was her entire piggy bank.  It was pennies but her mom wanted it to be more special so she traded the pennies for the larger coins.  I asked her if she wanted to buy something nice with the coins instead of giving them away and her response was almost enough to bring tears to my eyes.  She said, "There is nothing more nice than how kind you are to me and I want to thank you.". This friends is why I am a teacher."

Then our teacher friend shared a little more.  These children were refugees and after a home visit she found they had nothing.  No toys.  No school supplies.  Barely any clothes for school.  What they did have was hard working family members and a drive to learn.  They were working hard with very little but were not giving up.  Within hours, this was being posted on the personal Facebook walls of many of our members:

"Friends - a fellow mom/teacher is teaching in a school where one child takes home a stuffed animal home each night, from the classroom to cuddle because they have no toys.  We have lots of moms helping to rectify this, collecting toys, clothing, furniture, etc.  I would like to do a school supply drive and put together kits the kids can have at home.  Collecting crayons, pencils, paper, easy reading/picture books, scissors, stickers, glue stick, whatever you might have.  Please let me know if you might have anything. (verbage stolen from Julie)."

I have several reasons for sharing all of this.  

First, when you doubt that there is any kindness, caring or compassion in this world, think of this teacher and the way that she cares for these children and the way that these various people who may only have the fact that they are Moms in common came together to help a class of children and their families.

Second, even if you don't have much to give, give something back.  These children will be thrilled with their new pencil and a box of crayons.  To many, it's not much.  To these children, it's the start of an education.  I'm sure there is something in your community that you can donate too.

Third, I never cease to be amazed when a group of people are able to put their personal feelings or animosities aside to come together for the greater good.

Some call it Paying it forward.  Some call it banking good Karma.  Some just call it the right thing to do.  What ever you call it, just do it!  You will be amazed at how you feel and what it brings into your life.  The way your heart feels so full.

Even if you don't have the ability to give a lot, give a little.  A box of crayons is Fifty cents.  I might not be in a position to donate $50 to get a child's school supplies but if 25 of us donated $2, it's covered.  Even if you are only in a position to donate that extra glue stick from the pack of 4 you had to buy because your child's teacher requested 3.  It's one less glue stick that they need to buy.  

It really is the little things.  Little things add up.  

Give of yourself.  Give back.  I'm sure that each one of us has been given a break sometime, somewhere, even if it was the smallest gesture.  If may take a little bit of your time out of your day but that time may absolutely make the day for someone else.  

Within a few days, items had been donated, arrangements were being made to gather and get it to the teacher.  What started as a way to help one child has grown into helping about 30 and creating an in-class book in a baggie library for the kids.  All because one person donated a gently used book.  Another donated some crayons.  Yet another gave some scissors.  And someone donated that glue stick.  

It starts small people!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Routines & Lists

I will admit it, I am a creature of habit.  My life may seem hectic and chaotic at times but without my routines, it's an absolute nightmare.  In addition to work, in our household we have one in intermediate school, one in high school, two in college, a teen with an after school job, and a small business.  Throw in extra-curriculars like football, softball and soccer and hectic becomes an understatement.  Your particulars might be different but I bet you're just as harried!

Ever since I was in the hospital, things were so up in the air and so many doctor's appointments were thrown in that I got away from my routine.  Now, we still ate and still had clean clothes, etc.  But MY routine was totally screwed up.  By that I don't mean just the extra appointments and things although, those contributed to it.  I mean those things I specifically do on Sunday or how I cook on Wednesday, etc.

I had gotten out of my habits.  Things like on Sundays, I deal with my coupons and coupon binder while having coffee and I make my weekly menus.  Just those two little things can mess up the week and the budget.  First, I truly do not like the "What do you want for dinner?", "I don't know, what do you want?" game.  This can go on for a bit and then it's late and you end up at a restaurant for dinner.  There goes the budget.  Once the menu is made on Sunday, the family has until sundown (you just heard old western showdown music in your head, didn't you?  LOL) to protest the menu or ask for a change. 

Yesterday, I decided that I had to get back on track.  I sat down, made my menus and made my lists.  Yes, I like lists too!  Some days I don't think I'd remember my name if not for my lists.  I'm old fashioned with them too, I like to actually write on a piece of paper (usually an old envelop or the back of some school assignment).  I have the apps on my phone to make to-do lists and grocery lists and it's just not the same.

By having my menus done, I know that I have what I need to make each meal. I can also make note of those items I will have replenish the next time I go to the grocery.  I can plan ahead to have easier meals on busier days.  I know what days I need to break out the crock pot and let it do the work for me.  And there are no more $40 mid week restaurant meals.

Whether you make lists on paper or on your electronic device, they seem old-fashioned but it really helps to keep me on track.  I have a household book with lists that let me keep the house fairly clean (I have kids and a husband, so it's never totally clean).  Sometime in the future, I'll share my book and lists as a couple of them need updated.  I also make lists of other things to keep things moving along.  For example by making a list of my errands, I can sorta map them out so that I'm not backtracking and wasting gas.

I know some of you will say "Aren't you wasting time by making the list?"  Well, I generally make my lists while I'm having coffee or waiting in the car on the kids or waiting in a doctor's waiting room.  Those few minutes you might be playing Candy Crush Saga, you could make a list.  I'm not knocking CCS at all, I'm on level 181 myself, but miss a round or two and make your own list!  

I should warn you though.  There is such a feeling of accomplishment in taking a pencil and crossing off something on your list.  I tell my husband, you can't always see what I do so crossing it off the list lets me feel that accomplishment!

So here I go, back to my routines and my lists!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ahhh, the September garden

I love my garden.  However, September is always a love-hate relationship between the garden and me.  If you're like me, I spent the last month and a half with putting up the bountiful harvest.  I've canned green beans, tomatoes, tomato juice, corn, pasta & pizza sauce.  I've put celery, cauliflower and green peppers in the freezer.  It's really been a great year.  Everything in the garden was thriving.  Even the weeds...

I spend so much time putting up the goodies from the garden that I don't spend as much time weeding.  Ok, in the last few weeks, I've not spent any time weeding.  Throw in the fact that I've dealt with a lot of health stuff this summer and my garden is sorry looking.  Don't get me wrong, we're still pulling things out but it is sad looking...LOL

Why would I come and tell the world that my garden is a mess?  Because it happens to everyone!  I'll be the first to admit that when "life happens" you have to prioritize and not feel one bit guilty about it.  Rather than let the produce go to waste, I let the weeds have their way.  It happens.  

And of course, the weeds start in good just at the time that, here in Indiana at least, the temperatures hit the 90's and stayed there.  At that point, in my mind anyway, it's just better to harvest and put up the spoils of your hard work rather than sit and watch it spoil!

Bottom line, do NOT feel bad if your garden has gotten some weeds.  It just shows that "life is happening" for you too.

That being said, I think it is about time to look at my carrots and sweet potatoes.  I have successfully grown leeks this year too and need to research how to put those up.  And I am waiting on my succession planting of green beans to be ready.  

There is still a lot of work to do in the garden until the time to close it up for the year but weeding it isn't high on my list.  The professionals will tell you that the weeds are competing for the nutrients in the garden and while that is 100% true, my life is happening.  

Enjoy life, the garden will be fine!