Friday, September 30, 2005

Second Time's the Charm

Canning apples the second time was much quicker and easier. I was able to can 14 quarts of applesauce yesterday, which is double what I barely got done the day before. I'm feeling pretty good about it. Although we still have a big laundry basket full of apples, I don't think I'll be doing any canning today. We're heading up to the Adirondacks tonight for the Townwide Garage Sale in Warrensburg and a little winterizing. I need to switch frugal gears.

My focus today will be on finishing the curtain project I was working on for the tv room. It's part of our "seal the house up tight for winter" project. I'm chief in charge of putting plastic on windows and heavy window coverings to seal out drafts, while Jim is head of crawling around in the attic and laying down insulation over our freezing cold bedroom. Clearly I have the better position, I can do half of my job while sitting on my tush watching old movies and I won't get itchy! ;)

Actually, making curtains has been a real learning experience for me. If you've been around for a while, you'll remember the curtain project started with my sons' room. (If you're new check out the archives, Saturday, August 13th My Curtain Project for the background on the story.) Since the boys get up at the first glimmer of daylight, I used dark fleece as the backing and beige fabric for the front. This works great for keeping the room dark but during the day but, even with the curtains open, it makes the room seem darker and smaller.

When I was thinking about a heavy curtain for the tv room, I knew I didn't want to block out light, I just wanted something to insulate the room a bit. My fabric of choice is uncoventional to say the least. I had aquired an old cotton knit bedspread from freecycle a while back, it reminds me of the ones my grandmother used. It was oddly sized and had a fringe that went around two sides but the other two were plain. Interestingly enough it was the perfect size for the window in question and it was nice and heavy.

We hung it over a window here just to see how much light it blocked but since it was white and woven, it really didn't block much at all. So with heavy duty thread in hand, I'm in the process of making a rod pocket and a little ruffle for the top. I'm also making a tie back to pull the curtain open. (I'm hoping to have some pictures to share over the next few weeks.) The only expense will be the rod and hardware which will have to be heavy duty to hold this up. An added bonus is this material washes like a dream, no need for expensive or chemically scary dry cleaning.

I have one more set of curtains to make and I'm toying with making the fleece lining detachable so the curtains would be useable in summer. I'm not sure how practical it would be but I'll be doing some measuring this weekend to try to figure it all out.

A close family member comments constantly on how hard we make our lives, especially me, with canning and sewing etc. I don't feel that way at all. Yes there are times when I am busier than she, but then I reap the rewards at a later date, as I eat my wholesome preserved foods or enjoy a lower heating bill. I also enjoy the challenge and the creative experience that my lifestyle allows.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Everything Takes Longer the First Time

I should tattoo this on my forehead and the backs of both my hands as a reminder. I did can applesauce for the first time yesterday and it did go well. However, I started peeling apples at 10:00am and didn't finish peeling or get them on the stove until 12:30. I misjudged how long it would take to soften the apples, blend them and bring them back to a boil.

In between canning activities (there's a lot of down time in canning where you need to be nearby but aren't really doing anything) I made a huge pot (16 quarts) of split pea soup. That used 1/2 of a drawerful of carrots and both heads of celery, freeing up some much needed fridge space. I just left that simmering on a back burner. I also made an apple crisp (although I didn't peel the apples for it.)

I finally took the jars out of the canner at 3:00pm. I was cranky, tired and a little frazzled because last night was the first night of an 8 week nutrition course that I'm teaching for our local adult ed program. I had figured that I would be done canning by 1:00pm at the latest.

Jim got home at 5:00 and he helped roll out some defrosted pizza dough. I whirled the leftover soups from the last two days in the blender and called it sauce (since both had tomatoes it was rather sauce like.) My sons spread the sauce around. I made a nutritional yeast "cheese" to top the pizza and drizzled it over the top. We popped them in the oven and I even got to eat two slices before running out the door.

So what's the lesson? When I think back to my first attempts at this lifestyle, I suspect my reaction was; never again followed quickly by; let's get takeout! But really the lesson is, everything takes longer the first time so plan accordingly. Have someone there as an extra set of hands. Its helpful both mentally and physically. Don't start an unfamiliar or really ambitious project with a deadline hanging over your head like I did. Recognize that you will get quicker at tasks the more times you do them. Finally, some tasks are done best apart from the work week. This wasn't an option for me this week as we're going away for the weekend.

When I teach YogaBall, I tell my students that yoga is a practice and there is something to be learned each and every time we practice, both from our successes and from the things we would have liked to do better. This is very true in the kitchen as well.

Having learned my lesson, I will be canning today but Jim gave me a head start last night. While I was out teaching my nutrition class, he cut and peeled 8 quarts of apples.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Overnight Crock Pot Soup

Last night's dinner went very well. I did end up adding a little Bragg's for flavor. There was enough of the squash to make extra biscuits for breakfast, which was a big help. Whatever I make for breakfast tends to double as an afternoon snack. I don't mind because its all healthy food but with a hungry hubby and four hungry kids, things just don't last around our house.

Lately, we keep running out of bread. We can easily use a loaf a day once everyone makes their lunches. I need to pack the freezer with frozen bread dough again but I just haven't had the time. So far, I've been getting around this problem with a little creativity. We had Peanut Noodles one night which we used for lunch the following day. I made breadsticks from leftover pizza dough that the kids took with a bean dip.

Last night I was stumped. The CSA pickup was HUGE. We were running out of room in the fridge and I was just too tired to start steaming veggies for the freezer or prepping them for canning. There was no way in the world I was going to start baking bread. By about 8:15pm I knew we were in trouble and needed to come up with a solution fast. We were on the verge of an emergency run for bread for lunches, when it occured to me that we could ease the fridge overcrowing a bit and solve the lunch problem at the same time.

I put a little olive oil in the bottom of my crock pot and turned it on high. Then I chopped an onion and tossed it in, stirring it around a bit. We had enough carrots to fill both of the lower drawers in the fridge (which is huge) so I grabbed a few of them, chopped them up and threw them in on top of the onions. It takes about a half hour for the crock pot to start softening up the onions on high but it saves you from having to clean another pot. Besides, I wasn't moving fast enough to fill the crock pot before the half hour was up.

I chopped up some slightly scary looking end of season tomatoes and rinsed some cooked white beans (from the same batch I had cooked earlier.) I put the white beans in the crock first and then put the tomatoes on top. I added water until it was about an inch below where the beans came to. This is because the veggies would all leach out some water and I'm notorious for using too much water. There were some leaves that had fallen of some the greens from the CSA, so I rinsed them and threw them in too. I popped the cover on the crock and hoped for the best. Fortunately by then, Jim had finished putting away the rest of the produce.

This morning, I added a little bit of Bragg's (I'm starting to really like that stuff) and filled a thermos for everyone. There were enough biscuits to give everyone one to have with the soup too. The bonus is its a really chilly morning here in the Hudson Valley, perfect soup weather! I love it when a plan comes together!

I realize it was a soup very similar to the one the night before but some days necessity and good nutrition outweigh the need for variety. Today, I'll be steaming a lot of the greens for winter soups, making bread and hopefully canning some applesauce.

BTW, for anyone with herb gardens in areas with threat of frost. You can pick the herbs and just freeze them right from the garden to use in winter recipes. They lose texture but not flavor.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Organizing the Pantry & Cleaning out the Fridge

About once a year I seem to lose track of everything and I have to totally empty and reorganize my cabinets and my freezer. I hate doing it but you get a much clearer picture of what needs to be on your shopping list and you avoid running out of staples. I don't think anything wasted more time, money and mental energy than running out of something half way through a recipe.

I don't have a big pantry, my dry goods are kind of spread out. I have some stolen shelves in the linen closet, the coat closet and the regular kitchen cabinets. It makes it harder to keep track of things. After moving things around and grouping like items together, I discovered that I have an inordinant amount of white beans. They'll definitely be on the menu more over the next few weeks.

For tonight's dinner I'll be cleaning the fridge out so the CSA pickup will fit. A quick glance inside the fridge revealed some lettuce, an onion, leftover beets, 2 zucchini and a small container of acorn squash. There are two bulbs of garlic on the counter. If you read that list and it meant nothing to you, don't panic. The more you cook, the better you are at recognizing the possibilities in your fridge.

Here's how I do it. First, think about what foods you would find in recipes together. For example, would it be uncommon to see onion, garlic and zucchini in the same dish? Not really but when it comes to the beets and squash, you need to make a decision. Those are two great tastes that may not taste great together. What kind of shape is the lettuce in? Can it still be a salad or would it be better cooked and served more like other greens?

I already know I need to use some of the white beans so I've had them soaking overnight. How can I incorporate the beans into a recipe involving the fridge ingredients? Is there anything in the freezer that can help me tie these ingredients together?

The other big piece of the puzzle is, how much time to I have to devote to this meal? Am I running out to work tonight, do I have a meeting, is Jim working late? Do I need a meal that can stand up to being in the pot a little longer without losing quality and flavor in case someone is running late?

The final verdict is I'll be making a vegetable and white bean soup with squash biscuits and a salad. For the soup I'll sautee the onion and garlic in a little olive oil. When the onions are softened, I'll toss in the zucchini and beets. I'll add about 4 cups of tomato sauce I had defrosted earlier in the day. Crushed tomatoes would be fine as well but I'm using what I have. I'll add the white beans in after they have cooked (tomato products prevent dried beans from cooking completely.) I'll probably add a dash of Bragg's Aminos or tamari depending on what it tasted like. Cajun seasoning and Italian seasoning are other flavoring options.

While that's simmering, I'll use the leftover squash to make squash biscuits. This recipe is from Grandma's Wartime Kitchen by Joanne Lamb Hayes. It's really just a basic biscuit recipe that adds 3 Tbs brown sugar and uses pureed squash for half of the liquid in the recipe. The lettuce will be chopped up for salad, although it could easily be added to the soup if you prefer.

Monday, September 26, 2005


I just had to share a little cyber victory with everyone. I have finally figured out how to bring the entries up on the page. Now you will see them as soon as you click on the blog. It just looks so much better.

As with many things, the solution was really simple. Thanks to everyone for their tolerance of the old format.

Comfort Foods

It's starting to feel like fall. There's a coolness to the days and a slight chill to the nights. This is the time when we start to crave the hearty comfort foods of childhood. Meatloaf was one of those old standby, stretch the grocery bill meals that both my husband and I remember. I've been experimenting with different "loaf" type meals for a long time but this weekend I think I finally have one worth sharing.
It's quick, hearty and this recipe made enough for two meals for ou family of six.

Red Lentil Roast
In a medium pot place:
2 large potatoes, chopped
enough water to just cover the potatoes (the exact measurement depends on the size of your potatoes)

3 cups uncooked red lentils
4 cups water
Simmer until soft and water is absorbed, about 25 minutes

In a seperate pan saute:
2 large chopped onions
2 cloves garlic
You can sautee in oil or water, your choice.

2 cups nutritional yeast
2 Tbs flax seed meal
2 Tbs tamari
1 cup oatmeal
2 tsp dried parsley
2 tsp dried thyme
In a large bowl mix together potato lentil mixture, onion garlic mixture, and remaining ingredients. The mixture should be fairly thick. If it seems too soupy add a little more oatmeal. Spoon into greased 9x12 pan. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes or until crispy on top.

Serve with your favorite gravy and a green vegetable.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Using All You Can

Here's a quiz:

1. You've purchased beets at your local farmers market with the greens still on. What do you do with the greens?

2. You're preparing fresh broccoli. You've cut off the florets and only the stalk is left. What do you do with the stalk?

3. You're having acorn squash with dinner tonight. You've cut them in half and scooped out the seeds. What do you do with the seeds?

I'm sure you have an idea where this is going but your answers to these questions seperate the truly frugal from the frugal newbies. Don't worry, we were all frugal newbies once!

Here's how I answer the questions:

1. I chop the greens, lightly steam them and freeze them for use in recipes over the winter. I don't use them now because I have plenty of fresh vegies available from the CSA and the greens freeze well.

2. The answer to this questions depends on how woody the stalk is. If its very woody and has a hole in the center, it may be worthless. If not try peeling the outer skin off and using the center as a crunchy addition to salads (similar to water chestnut in texture.) Depending on how thick the skin is, you may steam and freeze it for use in soup (if you're unsure if it will soften up enough, a whirl in the blender may be an idea.)

3. Squash seeds can be baked like pumpkin seeds. I think they even taste a little better.

So how does a person learn what's usuable and what's compost? My two favorite resources for this are Carla Emory's Encyclopedia of Country Living and that old standard, The Joy of Cooking. The strength of the Joy of Cooking is not its recipes, it is the basic food prep information and the variety of foods mentioned. (Its not a cookbook I would go out and buy but, since everyone seems to get it as a wedding present, I thought I'd mention it. I see it all the time at used book sales.) Other places to learn more about using it all are depression era and other old cookbooks. Talk to your grandmother or anyone else who was affected by the depression. They know all the tricks for letting nothing go to waste.

My grandmother has been gone for many years but I have wonderful memories of being in her kitchen and in her garden. I've often been told by my mother and my aunts that things I do remind them of her (composting, gardening, canning, bread baking.) She would have been an awesome resource!

Friday, September 23, 2005

What Do You Do With One Cookie?

Whenever you have only a tiny bit of something you wonder if its worth saving. One cookie is the perfect example, you're more likely to pop it in your mouth than go through the trouble of storing it. We've got a container in our freezer labeled "for ice cream" and this is where lonely cookies go. When we make or buy soy ice cream, the contents of the container are broken up and sprinkled over the ice cream. Voila, instant Sunday with zero added expense, and no fighting among the kids!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Apple Picking With the Family

My mother must have been reading my mind. Just as I was thinking about going apple picking, she called to ask if we wanted to go apple picking. We're meeting Saturday morning at the orchard. My sisters, brother and his wife and my niece will join us as well. We're packing a picnic lunch to save some money at the concession stand.

Later today, I'll be perusing the recipes in Ball Blue Book of Canning to help me decide how many apples to pick. This will be my first time canning apples. The best part is for the kids, its just a lot of fun.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hints for Easier Food Storage

Last night's CSA pickup (check the archives for the Thursday, May 26th entry for more info on CSA) was HUGE!! My kitchen table is covered in veggies. The down side is I have a lot of work to do today, some freezing and some canning. I'm making a huge batch of White Beans and Tomatoes for dinner, almost half will go in the freezer for a quick fall/winter meal.

When freezing foods, think about the amounts you need to use in recipes. For example, my pumpkin bread recipe calls for one cup of pumpkin puree. I usually make four at a time, so I either freeze my pumpkin (winter squash can be used in place of pumpkin in most recipes) in 4 cup or 2 cup containers. Doing the measuring now saves me time and waste later.

The same idea applies to canning. For our family of 6, a pint jar doesn't go very far. For us, it makes more sense to can in quarts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Sunflower Seeds

Monday went pretty well, all things considered. I made 4 loaves of banana bread and 24 cocoa banana muffins. They've already been a huge help. The muffins only lasted through lunch but I knew that would happen.

I like to add nuts to whatever muffins or quick bread I make to give it a little more nutrition and holding power (the fat content in the nuts helps you stay full longer.) Unfortunately nuts can be pretty expensive, and organic nuts are almost double the price of non-organic ones. I've been experimenting with using sunflower seeds in place of walnuts in these recipes and so far I've really liked the results. In fact, no one in the house has noticed the difference.

The trick with all nuts is to make sure they don't get rancid. I try to store mine in the fridge or freezer. When I run out of room, I opt for the basement where the temperature is fairly constant. Not sure if your nuts are rancid? Rancid nuts stink and have an aftertaste. If you use them in recipes they will taint the flavor of the whole product. (Yes, you guessed correctly, I know this because I tried to use them once.) If you're not sure, then the nuts are probably okay. There's really no mistaking the smell if they have turned.

This afternoon is CSA pickup (for an explanantion of what a CSA is and where to find more info, check out the comments on yesterday's post), doctor's appointment for my son, I have to teach a class, and its meet the teacher night for my youngest.

Since yesterday was my oldest daughter's birthday, tonight we'll be having Chinese food. We always let the kids choose their birthday dinner. Its part of our keeping it frugal and fun philosophy.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Week Ahead

I'm strongly considering just going back to bed. This week is just chock full of things to do. I've got three meet the teacher events to attend, a doctor's appointment for my youngest, my inlaws are visiting and that's before the regular events that fill our week. As an added bonus, Jim's working late the next three nights. There's not enough coffee in the world to get me through this...or is there?

Fighting the urge to hide is the first step to winning the battle. As with most aspects of frugal living, you need a plan. Dinners are my first priority, thanfully, we had company yesterday and I have a fridge full of leftovers. For tonight at least, dinner is covered. As for the rest of the week, the crock pot will be a huge help. Today I'll plan the meals so I know if beans need to soak from the night before.

Breakfast is the next challenge. There's a two hour window between when my kindergartener gets on the bus and my oldest gets home and needs help with homework. I'll use the overripe bananas to make enough muffins to get us through the end of the week. Half will go in the glass server on the table, the other half will go in the freezer so they stay fresh for the end of the week. There is nothing more aggravating than hard work destroyed by mold.

Snack for the week may be pumpkin cookies since we've cooked our first pumpkins of the season from our CSA last week. Time will tell, if not there is always sunflower seeds and raisins or popcorn.

I'll also need to budget some time for freezing the last of the CSA pickup from last week. I've still got beets (I'll make these into French fry like sticks, bake a bit and then freeze) and carrots (I'll cut these into coins for quick additions into winter meals). I know root cellar type storage would work well for these veggies but my house isn't ideal for it and everything will rot. Its definitely something I plan to explore more down the road.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Saturday and the Frugal Fridge

Saturday is the day we try to get all the things done that we should have done during the week. Its also a great day to make use of all the leftovers in your fridge. Instead of having a particular thing for lunch, we drag out all the leftovers and have a buffet lunch. This is a fun and painless way to clean out the fridge.

Here are some examples from today's lunch:
Red Beans and rice with the last of the tortilla chips crumbled over the top
Dahl with Rice
Carrot muffins

Peanut butter and jelly or other simple sandwiches are a great way to fill in the gaps of a meal like this.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Frugal Confession

About 20 years ago I stole my Dad's Atra razor. I didn't really steal it, I just kept using it on my legs which in turn tore up his face. I think he finally just gave up and got another one. When I moved out I took the razor with me. I still have that razor and guess what? Blades for it are just about the cheapest out there.

Okay, its not pink or fancy, it only has two blades (although I remember being thrilled by that) but it is completely functional and since its all metal its not likely to break. After trying to find a reasonably priced razor that wasn't disposable for my daughters, I've turned to ebay to find a couple of old Atras like my own.

I'm looking for time tested quality not a pretty pink, curvy handle. I mean honestly, who sees your razor? So thanks to my Dad for letting me keep the razor all those years ago!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Making It Fun

Being frugal and having your whole household griping and feeling deprived is a drag. I'm usually succesful at avoiding this by including some "fun" foods in our menus. For example, tonight we are having Black Beans and Rice, a simple but yummy meal. I usually serve it with a dollop of salsa and steamed greens on the side(kale, collards, etc.) To make it more fun, everyone gets a handful of tortilla chips to use as edible spoons. The kids love this and at $1.61 for the 1 pound bag of tortilla chips, I haven't broken the bank either.

Plaintains are also a treat to serve with beans, my kids love them. Just make sure you let them ripen until they're really mottled looking or they'll be too starchy. I peel them and fry them in a cast iron skillet with a little spray of olive oil. (BTW, if you use cooking spray invest in one of those refillable containers. It's so much cheaper and better for the environment than buying the disposable aerosol cans from the grocery store. I got mine on ebay for under $10.)

Another fun addition to meals that I recently tried is breadsticks. I had some leftover pizza dough from the birthday party this past weekend. I rolled it into sticks, sprinkled with garlic powder and sesame seeds and baked at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes (I kept peeking so I'm not totally sure on the time.) I served it along with pasta and the kids loved it. They kept dipping them in their sauce.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Hectic Night

Our CSA pickup is a lot bigger since we added the third share for fall. I also teach a Pilates class on the same night as pickup. It makes Tuesday nights a little hectic at our house as we try to get the food stored away, eat dinner and get the kids to bed on time. As an added bonus, we finished the last loaf of bread making yesterday's lunches and all the muffins got eaten for breakfast. Frankly, I'm pooped just thinking about it.

Here's how we dealt with it all and came out ok. First, dinner had to be quick and it had to be tolerable as a lunch for my kids (remember the no "weird foods" clause that my daughters' invoke.) Peanut noodles (reipe is in Peta cooks) were the perfect solution, everyone loves them. I also threw together a veggie soup with any remaining veggies from last weeks CSA pick up. Start by sauteeing the long cooking veggies (onions, carrots, beets, celery etc). After these are softened add quick cooking veggies (greens, green beans, corn, etc) Add some leftover tomato sauce and a squirt of Bragg's and you'll have a pretty good soup. Throw in leftovers if you have them. Use your imagination just be sure not to combine spices that don't blend well. For example, the leftover Indian dish wouldn't have gone well in this soup.

Scones are the quickest thing I can throw together for breakfast, so I did. To make things a little different, I mixed them in the bowl that had held the peanut noodles and topped them with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. It gave them just a hint of peanutty sweet taste, which everyone here likes. It reminds me of a coffee cake. With luch and breakfast taken care of, I could turn my attention to stowing away the veggies.

Today, there's some canning on the agenda (more sauce) and some baking (bread).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lentils & Split Peas, Let Me Count the Ways I Love Thee

We're all still adjusting to the kids being back in school. This year everyone has homework and with two kids in the elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school, I'm feeling a little fragmented. I've been so busy making sure everyone else is up to speed that some of my things have fallen behind, namely dinner preparation.

Several times since school started I've gotten to 5pm and discovered that I haven't soaked any beans or given any thought to dinner at all! Because of this, I've developed a new love of the quick cooking legumes, lentils and split peas. In just about an hour I can have a meal on the table using these. If I use my pressure cooker, I can have them done even quicker. Soups, Indian dishes and legume loaves (think meatloaf) are just a few ways to use these quick versatile legumes.

Having quick cooking legumes and grains on hand helps stave off fast food runs that blow the food budget.

I'm off tomorrow so I'm hoping to get a little more organized.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Frugal Teen Birthday Party *Part 2*

The movie watching went on until 5 am, thankfully they were quiet and I was able to sleep through it. The only thing worse than tired, cranky teens is a tired, cranky mommy!

Breakfast finally occured at almost 11 am. We had pancakes, home fries, strawberry banana smoothie and, of course, some left over cookie cake. A few weeks back I had put the maple syrup in a ketchup bottle to avoid huge amounts being used. I dicovered this works with small kids and teenagers too!

Repacking the car and cleaning up filled up the rest of our time, although the girls did sneak in a quick game of spud. As for the car ride home, everyone fell asleep while I sang my heart out to oldies (it was good that they were all asleep!)

While the gas use wasn't particularly frugal, the party was. The tab came in at just under $50, including food. As for the gas bill, I used the trip to do a little more closing up of the house for the winter so I don''t mind too much.

Now to make ice cream cake I used 2 quarts of Soy Delicious ice cream (we used chocolate velvet and chocolate peanut butter) and 1 bag of Midel chocolate snaps. Soften the ice cream in the fridge, it needs to be spreadable but not liquid. Grind up the chocolate snaps in a food processor. Decide what to "make" the cake in. I've used a bundt pan, a plain plastic container and I'm thinking about stealing my mom's unused jello mold for my next try.

Whatever you choose, either oil it or line it with plastic wrap to help you remove the cake for serving. Spread one quart of the ice cream along the bottom of your container. Place in freezer and let harden a bit. This prevents the cookie crumbs from getting soggy. Pour in cookie crumbs and place in freezer a few minutes, again this prevents the cookie crumbs from getting soggy. Top with other quart of ice cream, cover and freeze. It helps to let it sit on the counter a few minutes before serving. For those of you who haven't made the leap to vegan, it works with regular ice cream as well. In fact, I got the idea from a very non vegan neighbor.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Frugal Teen Birthday Party *Part 1*

Today at 10:00am my daughters' birthday party began. Since they are a year and two weeks apart it makes a lot of sense to combine birthday activities. Last year we gave them a choice, have a traditional birthday party with lots of people or pick two close friends each and invite them for a sleepover at the cabin in the Adirondacks. They both jumped at the chance to have two friends spend the night in our little utopia. It went so well that we're in the process of doing it again this year.

The two and a half hour car ride up was filled with first days of school gossip and a few car games. Once we got here, the bathing suits were donned, the inner tubes and inflatable boats were pumped up and we hit the lake for some chilly fun (summer has definitely ended in the Adirondacks!)

For dinner the girls made their own vegan pizzas. I had the dough already made, they shaped the dough, grated their own cheese and put on their own sauce. In retrospect this went better last year when the dough was room temperature and easier to work with but it still was an overall hit.

Afterwards the kids did some crafts. We chose to decorate canvas bags that we had left over from a project a few years ago (they were from Oriental Trading). The girls used fabric markers and paint that we already had, although we did pick up a few new tubes just in case.

Our second project was to make record bowls. We took record that were rejects from my hubby's collection (either scratched or wrong genre) and put them in a 200 degree oven on a metal bowl on top of a cookie sheet for 2 to 5 minutes (it depends on the thickness of the record, older ones seem to be thicker). Then remove the cookie sheet from and oven and shape your bowl. The bowl on top of the cookie sheet can be placed right side up and you can push the softened record into it to create a bowl. Or put the bowl upside down and let the record begin to droop over it then use your hands to create your own shape. If you mess up return the record to the oven and try again.

Then it was time for cake and presents. One daughter wanted an ice cream cake, the other a cookie cake. These were put together in advance and were a big hit. Making your own ice cream cake is super easy, I'll post how tomorrow night. Right now I'm pooped and need to get to bed. The girls are winding up their night by watching a movie.

Tomorrow, breakfast, a little fun, lunch and the drive home...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The First Day of School

I wasn't wrong, the peaceful tranquility of the Adirondack Mountains have given way to the hustle bustle of the Hudson Valley. I feel like I've been moving at the speed of light since Monday afternoon. I'm not sure if there is enough organic fair trade coffee on the planet to keep me going until Friday.

We made it through our first day of school. Lunches and snacks were made the night before which worked out really well. Everyone's sandwich and snack containers are labeled so if one goes missing I at least know which school or locker to send the search party to.

The muffins I made for breakfast were a hit, which is good because I made enough for two days! I used the basic muffin recipe that Amy Dacyzyn included in the Complete Tightwad Gazette for the first time, mainly because I had a lot of little bits of leftover cereal, juice, oatmeal, etc. and that's what the recipe is aimed at. I know that list sounds hideous but they were quite tasty. The trick is making sure not to include flavors that will clash horribly. The downside is I'll never be able to recreate these muffins again.

I have to confess, I didn't bake my own bread this week. I went to the bakery outlet store instead.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bye Bye, So Long, Farewell...

I can't believe that summer vacation is finally coming to an end. We've spent the evening packing the car and cleaning. Tomorrow we go home to start our "real life" again. Our experiment with simple summer living in the mountains has been wonderful, I'm addicted. We'll leave tomorrow morning with a car load of memories to warm us through the winter.

Real life starts with a bang Monday as we have our food cooperative pickup. In an effort to conserve a bit of gas, we'll be picking up on our way home from the mountains. Tomorrow night I'll be putting away 25 pound bags of lentils and 50 pounds of rolled oats.

Tuesday at the CSA we increase our number of shares from 2 to 3. They'll be a lot of canning and freezing in my future. Tuesday I also go back to work.

Wednesday is the first day of school. By the time I'm sending kids off on the school bus, this pristine mountain paradise will just be a happy memory to savor over my morning coffee.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Ordering For Next Year's Planting

We've taken the plunge and put together our order of currant bushes. We're starting with red (Red Lake) and white (White Imperial) currants. I'm so nervous, but the decision had to made as the fall deadline for orders is the end of September.

Check out to find a list of nurseries that sell currants, or any other fruit for that matter.

Canning & Curtain Update

I finished my tomato canning for until the next CSA pickup. To help get the tomato sauce boiled down to half of the original volume (most canning recipes for tomato sauce require this) I tried a different technique than I have in the past. I prepped the sauce up to the point where it just needs to cook down and then put in the fridge for the night. I set my alarm for 5:15 am and stumbled out of bed long enough to put the pot on the stove, uncovered to begin the simmering. By having it all ready to go and getting it started that early I was able to get the actual canning done by 2:30pm. This worked much better for me than when my canning ends at 9:30pm.

We also got the first four panels of curtains hung this afternoon. I'm really pleased with the way they came out. I just have one and one half more to go and I'll be done with them all.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Super Easy Eggplant

My husband is not an eggplant lover. It all goes back to a diasterous attempt I made to pickle it about 14 years ago. (He says I tried to poison him with an excess of vinegar. I say stop being such a baby, just because your eyes watered for a week!) Needless to say, the appearance of three large eggplants in this weeks CSA pickup displeased him. I had to make it good or eggplants would bear the label "gross" forever in our home.

Tonight I peeled them, cut them into thick slices, sprinkled them with a little salt and left them sitting in a colander in the sink for a half hour. This draws the bitterness out and is a must in my experience. I then rinsed them under cold water and placed them on a greased cookie sheet. I sprinkled them with garlic powder, parsley, thyme, oregano, fresh chopped basil and a bit of onion powder (an Italian seasoning mix would probably work well bt I didn't have any on hand.) I sprayed a bit of olive oil over the top and popped them in a 375 degree oven. I cooked them until they were tender throughout (this varies based on how thick you cut them but mine took about a half hour) and served them with pasta and sauce.

My husband loved them (WHEW!) and declared that the leftovers would be good in sandwiches tomorrow.