Plastic Container Greenhouses

From time to time I end up with those plastic containers that once housed strawberries or spinach. According to my curbside recycling guide they are not recyclable (differs by refuse company). So, I like to reuse them when I have them. Besides using them to organize my pantry or the kids markers, we make them into little seed starting greenhouses. You can buy a fancy seed starter system, but I find these work just as well and are easy to transplant.

Simply fill the bottom with soil and sprinkle in the seeds planting to required depth, water, close the lid and wait. I have successfully started onions, herbs, gourds, chard, and numerous other plants this way.

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Happy Little Sprouts

Happy Little Sprouts

Once seedlings have reached a level of growth where they will tolerate transplant, usually when they have developed roots and true leaves, I use a chopstick or spoon to separate out these tiny plants which then go into either 4 inch pots, or in the case of onions and squashes right into the garden.

Plastic containers need to be thoroughly cleaned in between plantings to discourage disease.

What other uses have you come up with for plastic containers? Happy planting!

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Tips for Hard Boiling Farm Fresh Eggs

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Have you ever tried to hard boil an egg from your very own chicken and had it turn out nearly impossible to peel?  Bits of egg came away with the peel and the thing ended up looking mutilated.

Method 1.  Wait:  The reason farm eggs are hard to boil and peel is because they are so fresh!  If you keep your eggs in the refrigerator for 2 weeks and then boil for 10 minutes, they should peel easily.  This is a great solution for those eggs of questionable age in mid-summer when the girls are laying so quickly that it’s hard to keep up your egg consumption.  If a batch of eggs starts to seem a little older, then boil them for snacking. 

This leads to the question… why are grocery store eggs usually so easy to boil and peel?   The logical answer is that they are already older.  Hmmmmmmm.

Method 2.  Steam:  Let’s say you don’t have time to age your eggs.  You need boiled eggs now!!  Instead of boiling, put them in a steamer.  When you get a good steam going turn the timer to 20 minutes.  You’re eggs should peel beautifully.

Method 3:  Baking Soda:   Sprinkle baking soda in your cold water and add eggs.  Bring to a boil for ten minutes.  Bon appetit!

Woodland Terrariums

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Are you looking for a Free fun nature activity for the kids that can be done with a few items from around the house?  Or are you looking for an artistic centerpiece for your table?  Or are you dying to plant your garden but the last frost hasn’t come yet?  Try a terrarium!

I live in the Pacific Northwest which is a green and verdant place. It is the sort that vegetation will reclaim quickly if man neglects their taming of it. It is called the Evergreen State for our beautiful conifers, but the greens of the rich things that grow here would rival emerald Ireland when the clouds part and the blue skies shine. There is nothing like a NW sky when it clears on those first spring days for the rain can seem ceaseless in the wintertime. It rains here enough that nearby we have our very own Hoh Rainforest. The rainforest is a soft dripping place with mosses a plenty, and alluring scents of dank rich earth. The rainforest has led me to a strange moss obsession. I gather these things up in terrariums and foster them and create tiny rain forests in my living room.

When I can’t be out of doors… I keep it nearby in a terrarium.  This is  a fun and free form of indoor art and it has the added bonus of helping to keep your indoor air filtered naturally, and when you tire of it you can return it to the forest from whence it came.  I make my terrariums with things dug up around the property like mosses, lichen encrusted limbs, licorice ferns, and perennial sedums and ground covers from my garden.  I try to only dig up mosses where they are plentiful and won’t be missed or if they are growing in what should be a moss free zone (like the roof).  I like to use outdoor plants that I can keep indoors for a season but will be just as happy out in a shaded patio.

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All you really need for this project is Sand (I use old sand from the sandbox), potting soil, a glass vase, bowl, or jar and a variety of mossy covered things found in the woods.  You may use small figurines or toys, pretty rocks or shells to add to the effect of a little world.

First, put a little sand at the bottom for drainage, but also for visual interest.  Sometimes I will just put the sand on one side of a vase and soil on the other to create a little beach. If you have activated charcoal it is also beneficial in a terrarium to retain moisture while keeping the roots from rotting, but a terrarium can be happy without it.  After soil is added, place a plant of interest like a little fern or sedum or a small mossy branch.  Then cover the remaining soil with mosses.  It is fun to find more than one kind of moss.  Add your figurines or rocks if desired.  Then give it a thorough watering.  Mist your terrarium with water as needed to keep the moss happy.

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If you have grown tired of your terrarium or it is looking unhappy, just take it out in the woods and set the native plants free.    Warning, if you do add little branches or rotten wood to your terrarium it may sprout mushrooms, which may be poisonous.  Unless you are an expert in mushrooms it is not advisable to handle them.  If you are doing this project with small children who could be tempted by mushrooms you may want to steer clear of old branches in your project, and to be safe check your terrarium routinely and discard it’s inhabitants if mushrooms should appear.

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Monday is Baking Day

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Inspired by Ma (Caroline) Ingalls I have decided that Monday will be Baking Day.  My budget is currently squeezed and after analyzing my expenses I’ve come to the conclusion that the area in which I can squeeze even more is the food budget.  I have always cooked dinner, but I haven’t always made everything from scratch.  The advantages to baking or cooking from scratch are that you know exactly what ingredients are in your food.  You do not need to worry about preservatives and questionable things like partially hydrogenated oils.  You can eliminate the worry of pesticides and genetically modified foods by using organic ingredients as well.

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Sometimes I wish I had as many days as Ma Ingalls had to work around the house.  Here is what her week looked like after she had done the daily chores:

“Wash on Monday,

Iron on Tuesday,

Mend on Wednesday,

Churn on Thursday,

Clean on Friday,

Bake on Saturday,

Rest on Sunday.”

I believe that dedicating a day to baking is the most efficient way to do time intensive cooking.  If I tackle these food projects individually throughout the week then each time I will need to get all the ingredients and cooking implements out.  I will also need to wash everything multiple times.   But if I’m cooking bread and then making pizza dough, my mixer doesn’t really need much washing in between uses.   Also, while the oven is heated I can bake multiple things so long as they are at compatible temperatures.  The only drawbacks I really experience is that I wish I had 4 loaf pans instead of 2.  Occasionally the oven is full, and I need to wait for one thing to finish while I start something else, but I can always keep up on the dishes while I’m waiting.

While I have been endeavoring to do Baking Day for a while, each week I have been adding new items to my repertoire.  Not all recipes are worthy of sharing yet, but that’s alright because I am still learning how to make raviolis and bagels and some items that take a certain level of trial and error.

Here is last Monday’s “baking”:

2 loaves of Wheat Bread: One side note about the bread.  I have a new mill!! So I ground my required 2 cups of wheat flower, and I used organic flour for the rest.  I think they turned out nicely.  I enjoy this bread best fresh and one loaf is used for dinner on Monday night while it’s still hot.

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2 loaves Zucchini Bread:  Hey, you’ve gotta love zucchini bread in March.  I keep 2 cup portions in the freezer that are left over from the inevitable summer bumper crop.  The kids often have a slice for breakfast.

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Ravioli:  This was the first time I made ravioli….or any pasta actually.  So maybe I should have started with an egg noodle (which I will try next Monday) but I had some ingredients in the fridge that needed to be used up that I thought would be yummy in a ravioli.  I don’t like to have anything go to waste and that goal often dictates my recipes when allowable.  I also used hand ground wheat for this recipe as well as our fresh eggs.  These have been frozen for use on a night when there isn’t much time to cook.

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Pizza Dough:  I just made the dough and put it in the refrigerator to be used another night instead of having frozen pizzas.  We did end up eating this on Tuesday.  I didn’t have pepperoni or anything so I got creative with the meat.  Thin sliced ham and bacon crumbles turned out great on this pizza.  I also used a mix of cheeses and my homemade marinara sauce.  Yum!

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Marinara:  See my Marinara Mash-up posting for details and recipe.  I used this marinara with Monday’s dinner and bread.  Then it was my base sauce for our Tuesday pizza.  Then I still had some leftover and had some with pasta for lunch on Wednesday.

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Cookies: At this point in my Monday baking goal I was running out of time!!  So I did enlist my son to make the chocolate chip cookies for treats throughout the week.  He made them all himself.   (This is another goal of mine which is to ensure that my children can bake and cook when they leave my household.  Home economics aren’t taught in schools anymore).  The biggest trick with cookies is to keep the kids and husband from gorging on them the first day.

What else: Some other food items that come up on baking day, but didn’t happen this week: Bagels, granola and cheesy breads.  Things I would like to learn for baking day: Cereal, crackers, and other pastas.  Do you have go-to make in advance meals that you want to share, or something I should include on my Baking Day?

Marinara Mash-up Recipe

Tonight dinner was fresh baked bread, broccoli, and chicken smothered in home-made marinara with cheese.  My family always asks about the sauce.  What kind of sauce is this?  Did you make it?  In other words… is it store bought?  I think the reason they have such a hard time nailing down my signature marinara sauce taste is because it is different every time I make it.

Here was tonight’s recipe:

1 jar whole tomatoes

2 cloves elephant garlic

3 small sweet peppers

8 leaves spinach

A couple pinches of my home dried herbs (oregano, savory, thyme and rosemary)

A dash of salt, sugar and olive oil

All whirled through the food processor and then simmered for half an hour.

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My frugal ingredients from the garden

The tomatoes, garlic, and herbs are really all this sauce needs (all of which are items I had laid up for the winter) but I like to use up fresh ingredients from the fridge in this recipe, or excess produce in the summertime.  Marinara can be a true waste not, want not adventure.  Here are some of my other favorite marinara add-ins:  carrots, peppers, basil, greens like spinach or chard, summer squashes, onions and all garlic varieties, capers, olives and wine (substitute wine for sugar), and of course… meat.  You may grate or food-process any of these items to add flavor and nutrients (your kids will have no idea) to your dinner.  You may cook your ingredients anywhere from ten minutes (I do min. 10 minutes on home canned tomatoes…. just in case) at a brisk simmer for a fresh tasting distinct sauce to a slow-cook of several hours for a rich and densely melded marinara sauce.

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Quick Cook Marinara

No Recipe?  Now, we’re Cooking.

 

The Joy of Old Time “Receipts”

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In the greater scheme of history, cookbooks have not always been readily available for the common household, nor have the books (or blogs) with housekeeping advice that is now so plentiful for the modern household.  More often, a girl learned from her mother how to cook and keep house.  Diets were simpler and regional.  If you grew up in Norway for example, you learned from your family and neighbors how to cook Norwegian food.  For those who could write, some recipes were written down, but often learned by heart as well.  The first American cookbook, according to The Pioneer Village Cookbook” by Ann Chandonnet (2010) was called American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons and wasn’t published until 1796.   Here is her recipe for Simmons’ Pompkin Pie,

“One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.”  (hmmm)

During the 19th century, cookbooks and books on housekeeping started to come into use more regularly, but were still rare.  Another interesting book in this area is The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child first published in 1829.  It contains interesting bits of advice like this:

“Barley Straw is the best for beds; dry corn husks, slit into shreds are far better than straw” (who knew?)

(Or)

 “Keep a course broom for the cellar stairs, wood-shed, yard &c. No good housekeeper allows her carpet broom to be used for such things”  (I remember this one every time I take my good broom outside).   But the volume has all sorts of advice ranging from keeping an immaculate apartment, preparing the cheapest cuts of meat, raising children (play is not encouraged, children should learn to enjoy being productive so that life is more pleasant in the long run), cheap dyes, and of course recipes like this:

“Cider Cake is very good, to be baked in small loaves.  One pound and a half of sugar, quarter of a pound of butter, half a pint of cider, one teaspoon full of pearlash; spice to your taste. Bake until it turns easily in the pans. I should think about half an hour.”  Notice the lack of precision in this recipe.   These sorts of recipes also assume that the cook already has plenty of baking experience.  While these old cookbooks are fun to read some of the recipes are not advisable to try… health codes have changed.

What we would now call a recipe was known pre-20th Century as a “receipt”.  A receipt could even be used to describe any set of how-to instructions including this wonderful excerpt from a fundraising “Kokebok” I found.  This book was pulished by the Ladies of the Sons of Norway Lodge #44 Poulsbo, WA in 1966, but the excerpt is attributed to being much older.

For your enjoyment I will print it in full:

“A “RECEIPT” FOR WASHING CLOTHES BEFORE THE 20TH CENTURY”  provided by Mrs. Paulmer Slind

This is the original spelling.

1. Bild a fire in the back yard to heet kettle of rain water.

2. Set tubs so smoke won’t blow in eyes if wind is pert.

3. Shave on hole cake soap in bilin water.

4. Sort things, make three piles. 1 pile white. 1 pile cullord, 1 pile work britches and rags.

5. Stur flour in cold water to smooth then thin down with biling water.

6. Rub dirty spots on board, then bile – rub cullord but don’t bile –

7. Take white things out of kettle with broom stick handle then rench, blew and starch.

8. Spree tee towels on grass.

9. Hang old rags on fence.

10. Pore rench water in flour bed.

11. Scrub porch with hot soapy water.

12. Turn tubs upside down.

13. Go put on clean dress– smooth hair with side combs–brew cup of tee– set and rest and rock a spell and count blessins.

I so enjoy reading these bits out of the lives of our predecessors.  I can see right into the day of an American family as close and fresh as any American novel, bringing history more fully to life.  They tell a story of love and care, principles and economy, of the joy of a hard earned rest at the end of the day and a slower pace of world.