Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who the Heck is THAT?

There is a new face on this voice has been here since the beginning, but now my pics will be too. Hubby is in love with our new camera, so for the first time in a long time, I'm in front of the camera instead of behind it. Doing what I do best, tackling toddlers and elusive weeds.

So hi from the other side of the lens!

Going Granola

With all of the wacky stuff we do, we realize that it may sound a bit like we've gone granola (my understanding of that term means kinda crazy, back to the earth, tree hugging, liberal, birkenstock wearing, long haired, hippie type) but no, really we have not. We're still just as conservative as can be... and only one of us has long hair.

So no, we are going granola, we're just eating it, a lot.

I have been making this granola recipe as a packable snack for my family for the past few months and it is really good. My exact recipe changes each time based on what I feel like, but the basic recipe is below and can be modified infinitely. Thank you to my Aunt Marilyn for the original 'flexible recipe' idea.

This makes a chewy sticky type of granola that holds together fairly well in bars. The closest commerical comparison is to the "Nature Valley Chewy Trail Mix Fruit and Nut" bar--the one in the purple wrapper.

Horton Ga-nora Bars (cause my son can't remember the word granola)

Dry Ingredients:
2 cup puffed rice cereal (crispies)
4 cups oatmeal (non-quick cooking kind)
1 cup chopped nutty add-ins (almonds, pecans, walnuts, hulled sunflower seeds)
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, craisins, blueberries)

Sticky Ingredients:
1 cup honey or corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tbs vanilla
2-4 tbs butter (I have also used coconut oil, olive oil may work too)

Optional Pre-Cooking (adds great depth of flavor, but not necessary)
[In a giant frying pan, melt ~1 tbs butter over medium heat and cook the chopped nuts until lightly browned and fragrant, stirring constantly. These get too toasty really fast, so keep an eye on them. Dump them into a giant bowl, then add more butter 2-3 tbs to the same skillet and toast the oatmeal the same way. The oatmeal will take a lot longer to cook, but will burn quick too. ]

Put the oatmeal, cereal, nuts, and dried fruit into a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan cook the honey and brown sugar over low heat, stirring constantly. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to keep the bubbles from overflowing. After 2 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla. Stir well until melted.

Pour this over the oatmeal mixture and stir well. Once combined dump the mixture onto a rimmed cookie sheet and flatten to about 1/2 inch. To make cleanup easier, I like to use two Silpat pan liners when I flatten the granola—one on bottom and one on top. This keeps the sticky fingers to a minimum and gives a more even final product. Once the granola is pressed flat, set it aside to cool for a few hours.

When cool, the granola can be cut into serving sized squares and wrapped individually for easy packing. I try not to cut anything on my slipat liners, so I use one of my son's place mats as a cutting mat.

I set any of the funny shaped or broken pieces aside in a Tupperware dish for immediate munching.

This keeps my family from grabbing a wrapped bar to eat in the kitchen, and saves me from some additional tedious wrapping… besides, the hippie-legislate-to-save-the-earth-wacko deep inside me would hate to see that tiny sheet of plastic wrap go to waste!

Total Money Makeover—in action!

One of the neat things we’ve found about the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover plan is that it keeps working, even after the ‘plan’ is complete. Here’s our recent events that made me so thankful that we have been careful with our money.

We had to dip into our emergency fund last weekend…On Friday, we took the van in to the shop…We’ve known we’d need new tires for my van soon--they were looking really bad and it probably would not have passed inspection. Since they are run flat tires they are expensive, to the tune of $400 per tire… we had saved up in our car fund about $1200 for this purpose. Which was good, worked just how it was supposed to, we’d saved $125 per month for the last year or so. But then at Honda they mentioned the van was running really rough, so we had them do the 105k mile service (we are at 102k) and that ended up costing another $1300 (replaced timing belt, water pump etc). So that money had to come out of our family emergency fund. I suppose we should have known a service was coming due and could have saved for it, but the tires and the service at once was a real budget killer.

So it was an expensive few days, I am SO thankful that we had this in the emergency fund (and car fund) to cover it all. These are the sorts of things that could totally ruin a budget or force a person to use credit. It hurt that we had to use the emergency fund, but I am so happy it was there. It is a VERY good feeling to be financially prepared.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Home Brew

Hubby bought a 'coffee' press at Ikea... guess who got it first?

I made a yummy backyard tea from fresh peppermint, lemon balm, dried pineapple sage, and dried stevia.

Topped off with local honey from our friends it made for a delicious hot drink.

Since it wall all safe ingredients, and no caffine, boy got to enjoy his first small cup of tea as well.

He mostly just enjoyed being with mommy and doing such a grown up thing as sipping tea.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Our NEW Budget

What excitement and fanfare and well, fizzle... after all of our work in 2009 to kill our last debt--our mortgage--we kind of feel, um, bored. Not that we don't totally enjoy not having any payments anymore, that is great, it is more that we spent the last year frantically slaying this huge beast and now that it is dead we are kind of lost on what to do next. Hubby is a very goal oriented person, and I am to some extent. Having a shared plan of attack on the mortgage was great for us. Now we are both kind of coasting along without a clear target, and when we don't have a clear target... we tend to get distracted.

We sort of know what to do next: we want to buy land, start a business, invest, give more, travel, have fun... but there is no direct path or plan to get there. Our new budget has been on my mind, I hope that defining that will give us some excitement again to our finances.

Perhaps I like catchy silly slogans, it helps me keep focus, but here is what popped into my head for our new budget (drum roll please): Live, Give, Save... (now sad slide whistle noise...) is that it? Yep, that simple, and probably copied directly from Dave Ramsey.

LIVE--taxes, pay utilities, allowances, insurance, all the normal stuff.
GIVE-- 10% goes to our church for tithes, I'd also like to have a give budget for fun, additional stuff
SAVE--for land, business, etc...

So these simple little buckets are my way of trying to understand our new financial life. I have not looked at any numbers yet, but I wonder if it is possible to have an even split, 30/30/30... or even if we want to. Unless I"m totally not thinking of something important, that seems to be the main things you can do with money. Perhaps our 'live' bucket will be much heavier than I'm aware of, even without debts thrown in.

I'm not sure where our 401k/Roth IRA investing and college savings falls in these categories. I know it is technically 'save' since we are saving the money, but it is also just part of the normal bills we pay and not really something we have to think about or work toward, it just happens each month. I also have a really hard time as seeing this money as real. Yes, I get a statement each quarter showing growth, but since I've never seen nor touched that money, it all seems make believe to me--hopefully my 55 year old me won't have this same thought!

So here is my target, my goal, my new financial score card. Over the next years of our life, this may swing one direction or another, or maybe it will stay constant, but I hope it will help me keep focus on finances in a good way.

What is WONDERFULLY absent is the debt bucket.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

First Fresh Food 2010

We enjoyed the first fresh side dish from our 2010 garden today... sauteed Swiss Chard and it was delicous.

The Swiss Chard plants are from last years garden, they have survived 105°F heat last summer and 13°F cold this winter and still they produced lots of tasty little leaves for us to enjoy this spring. Last year I only put in four plants, but this year I have planted a whole section of plants since they were so great.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Conversations in our Marriage...

Me to hubby: Sorry to nit pick, but it is C-O-O-P, chicken coop. That is, unless you plan on our hens over-throwing the government.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Race the Rain Gardening

We've had a stretch of decent weather to kick start spring here in Texas, but more rain was forecast for Sunday/Monday. I've tried hard to make full use of it...

Wed March 3rd--planted potatoes

Thursday March 4th -- boy and I made a run to the dirt store before work to get a load of compost (who knew $34 could bring so much joy to our lives).

side Note: Boy loves to watch the tractors and I love to get dirt. The tractor drives know us now and go out of their way to do a tractor rodeo for boy. These are HUGE tractors, the scoop is bigger than our little Tacoma so about 1/4 of a scoop fills our truck bed. The tractor driver has taken to using the scoop to level off the dirt in the truck, and even patted it down with the scoop. He was so precise that the shocks on our truck did not move as this huge bucket tapped the dirt in the truck bed. so neat! Boy flips out about it, I think it is pretty cool too. Yes, a load of compost is worth being an hour late for school and work!

Friday March 5th -- Kids were at grandma's so I was able to wake up early and start tilling. I'm sure the neighbors love me, because I actually watched the sunrise as I was tilling the back 1/4 of the garden! The back two rows tilled up great, but I got bogged down in mud and muck on the 3rd row and had to quit. Rather than doing one job fully, I"m doing the garden piece wise, I just don't have the time all at once to do it all. So my method was to till a row, bring in a barrow of compost, level it, then bring in a barrow of mulch for the path... repeat. In this way, i was able to get 3 perfect, ready to plant rows done before I had to leave for work on Friday.

Friday March 5th (evening) -- Since the kids were at Grandma's we had our date night, which meant two garden centers and dinner out... thank you my sweet romantic hubby. We bought two grape plants and two muscadine plants (which we think are like grapes, but look a bit different, we need to research it), herbs (upright oregano, salad burnette, German chamomile), 3 tomatoes (great white, black prince, something stripe/streak?), two globe artichokes, and one calendula, 9-pack of sweet bell peppers, 9-pack banana peppers. I also got a pile of seeds: Quinoa, calendula, red amarath, beetberry?, sorrel, bush bean mix (same as last year), squash mix (same as last year), nasturtiums. I also bought four more bare root strawberry packs, which I've since returned, the quality from Lowes was awful. No real gardening happened that night, just lots of buying...

Saturday March 6th-- In the two hours between social obligations, I was able to till the last few sections of the garden (S-E quarter) and get bunch of stuff planted. I ended up having to plant more seeds than I expected because I very foolishly watered the plants I bought and did not realize the seed packets were underneath...oops. Boy and I quickly planted the pre-soaked seeds about 8 hours after my initial mistake. Beans (rows 6 and 7, qinona and nasturtiums row 13 along the fence)...

Sunday March 7th -- I was able to unload the last 3 wheelbarrow loads of dirt to the front fruit gardens before church, it started raining as i was cleaning out the back of the truck. After church, I planted the rest of the tomatoes (row 11) and peppers (sweet bell row 5, banana row 8). The German chamomile came with about 20 tiny seedlings in the pot, I spread those all over the yard in random drifts of 4-5 plants. Lets hope they do well in small groupings.

Phew! I"m sure there more, and there are pics later. It rained all day Sunday and we should have some thunderstorms on Monday. Now that the garden is tilled, I'm praying for a drenching rain 1-2 time per week for the next 3 months...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Meat Quantities 2010

Every year we take a trip down to Nada to process our deer and wild hog meat. This was by far our biggest haul ever. We had well over 500lbs of meat for four families. We typically pile all the meat together, weigh it and divide up the meat into four portions (or how ever many families that decide to process with us that year). This helps for the years when someone may not have been as lucky in the field (we have no slackers so this works well). We then decide what percentage of the meat will be made into Jerky, Link Sausage, Summer Sausage, and Ground meat. Below is our divisions this year:
Type -- Link, Ground ( weight in pounds)

Nick -- 27, 73

Jared -- 27 , 73

Curtis -- 55 , 48

Preston -- 64 , 40

And I think we all had 10 pounds of summer sausage and 5 pounds of jerky.



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Potatoes In -- March 3

This morning before work, boy and I planted the seed potatoes into the cold ground. It was 35 degrees with a coating of frost on everything, but we have 60 degrees forecast for today, so I did not feel too bad about breaking through the frost layer to plant the potatoes. Yes, frozen ground, I've never had to deal with this in Texas before--it's that dern global warmin' I tell ya!

My seed potatoes were purchased about a month ago. I got 3 lbs of Red Lasoda from Calloways, I also had another pound or so of Wal-Mart baking potatoes that had sprouted. These potatoes have been hanging out on a platter in my kitchen window for the last few weeks working on sprouting their little eyes.

On March 1st, I carefully cut each seed potato into sections with about 1 strong sprouted eye each. For the potatoes which were fist sized or larger I cut into thirds, smaller than fist sized I cut into halves, and for golf ball sized potatoes, I just left to plant whole. I probably could have gotten a few more starts if I had been more ruthless in my cutting, but I don't have much room for potatoes, so my amount worked out just right.

I let the cut potatoes sit, cut side up, on the window for two days to allow a nice scab to form over the cuts. The theory is that this scab will prevent the potato from rotting in the ground. I did not let the cut potatoes scab over last year and they did just great. I have also heard you can dust the potatoes with powdered sulphur to prevent rot, but I've not gone that far yet.

The potatoes are tucked neatly into their potato coffins and hopefully ready to grow with the warmer sunny weather that is forecast for us.

The boy was helping me plant this morning, he said "These are seed potatoes, we will plant them and they will grow into BIIIGGGG mashed potatoes!"

My book ideas

Field to Table A Normal Person’s Guide to Home Butchering and Meat Processing
Intro: Why home food processing? Cleaner, more control, more humane, full appreciation of food
Section 1—hunting and field dressing (I’ll need C's help here)
Section 2 – Aging, deboning, and first storage
Section 3 – Processing, smoking, freezer ready, wrapping
Section 4 – Cooking and recipes

Cooking in a Crunch -- Non-traditional cooking methods for when the power is out

Cooking Under Pressure -- C's idea for pressure cooker recipe book. I"m not sure

Monday, March 1, 2010

Meat Processing Part III

Let's call this Meat Processing Part III, I'll probably break it into further sections since it will be easiest to understand in that manner. To recap, at this point, the deer or hog has been shot, field dressed, quartered (Part I), cooler aged, deboned and cubed (Part II)... now comes the part where we make it into home-freezer ready food.

We do our meat processing with hubby's hunting buddies at the home of their parents in south Texas. The Koreneks have been home processing meat for decades and are so generous to allow our little family to be a part of it all. Every winter, Mr. Korenek turns his barn workshop to meat processing and makes sausage, jerky, and ground meat for family and friends. He has an 8x10 smoke house built in his yard, a big old grocery shop freezer, a meat saw, two industrial meat grinders, a sasuage press, scales... and most importantly, the know how to turn a dead animal into delicious food.

We do our processing over one long 3-day weekend each year. We generally arrive on Friday night and do any pre-work and preparation. This year, that meant slaughtering a few more hogs to even out the total weights needed for our processing. The pork is added to the deer meat to help add fat and flavor. Deer meat is very lean and contains almost no fat. Wild hogs are a nusciance animal in Texas and they are trapped and shot by local landowners. Just before our visit, Mr. Korenek put out the word that we'd be needing some hogs and these piggys were delivered in the live trap.

The 3 hogs pictured here are young ones, probably around 30-40 pounds, just before this picture was taken, their big brothers were killed and slaughtered.

The two big guys were alredy slaughtered when we arrived, the hogs were quarterd and put into the freezers to chill overnight.

Saturday morning, bright and early, the big work begins. First the freshly slaughtered hogs must be deboned and cubed.

Here is hubby preparing to de-bone a leg section.

The meat processing is broken out and started in order of what takes the longest to process and cure. Since it takes the longest to smoke and dry fully, we start off by preparing the jerky. The deer meat, usually a leg roast, is sliced thinly (about 1/4 inch) and seasoned. It is then strung onto wire hangers to be put into the smoke house for about 24 hours depending on the heat of the house and the moisture content.

This is the jerky after about 8 hours in the smoke house

The next step is to make summer sausage (a smoked and baked sausage that can be eaten cold)

We mix 50% deer meat and 50% fatty pork to make summer sausage. The meat cubes are ground in an industiral grinder and seasoning is added. The meat is passed through the grinder twice to get a small grain and even texture. First pass through the grinder is with a wider grinder plate, then a smaller grinder plate.

This is a 40lb meat ball, all ready to be made into summer sausage.

This is the cast iron sausage press we use. The meat is put into the top of the grinder and then the handle is cranked to force the meat out of a small tube at the bottom of the press. Strong hands hold the casing over the tube and fill the sausages.

The seasoned, ground meat is then pressed into 2.5 inch diameter casings (we use synthetic casings here) tied off, and hung on racks for the smoke house. The casings we used are about 1 foot in lenght.

Summer sausage, ready for the smoker

Next we prepare meat for the link sausages. The link sausages we make are similar to kielbasa, they are smoked but not baked, so they must be cooked fully before eating.

Since these link sausages are a staple of our diets now, we generally make enough to serve it at least once a week for the whole year. Multiply that by four families and this step required a huge pile of meat--two in fact, since we mix pork and deer meat together. The meat is always carefully weighed to determine quantities and how much spice is needed.

The deer meat is on the left, notice it is a darker red color and has significantly less fat than the pork meat pile on the right. These piles weighed 175 pounds total, after processing, the finished sausages weighed in at 173 pounds, not too bad to only have 2 lbs lost water weight.

All of this meat is mixed thouroulgy, seasoned and then ground.

For the link sausages we use natural casings--meaning the washed and prepared small intestine from a pig. This is what a bowl of casings looks like before stuffing.

The ground meat is put into the sausage press and the casings are filled in a similar manner as the summer sausage. Except that the natural casing is a lot longer, probably 15-25 feet in length each, so the filled sausage is a lot longer too.

Here is another shot of the sausage assembly line. The grinder turns the crank, the next person holds the casing as it is filled (this job takes really strong hands), the next person rolls the filled sausage.

Here is a close up of the casing as it is being filled.

The long roll of sausage is cut into approximately 1 foot sections and tied off

Here is a row of tied sausages ready to have the strings cut.

The strings are cut and the sausages ready for hanging

Here are the sausages on the rack in the smoke house.

There were a lot of summer sausages this year.

The last step of the processing day is to make ground meat from the remaining meat. The meat is weighed and mixed 50/50 deer/pork. It is then fed through the grinders.

You can see the two industrial grinders going side by side. For the ground meat, we had 2.5 large plastic storage tubs full of cubed meat.

In years past, we have just weighed and bagged up (in big trash bags) the ground meat for each of the families. At home, each family would portion off the meat into serving sized amounts and wrap in butcher paper. This year, we tired a new method again using the sausage press to fill plastic freezer bags.

Processing Day Two finished

The final day of the processing weekend is where we sample our efforts and wrap and label all meat for the long drive home. During the night, as the various items finish smoking, they are removed from the smoke house and put into the chillers for the evening.

Here is a pile of half of the smoked summer sausage. See the pretty red color the sausage takes on from the smoking?

The sausages are weighed and portioned out for each family.

We work assembly line style to wrap and label the sausages

The sausage is first wrapped in plastic wrap, then freezer paper, then taped, labled and put back into the chillers.

The summer sausage wrapped in a similar manner.

Here is what we got to go home with

What a great way to spend a weekend, and talk about really KNOWING where our food comes from. I am so thankful that we have had such wonderful mentors in this process. When I grew up, meat came from the grocery store, wrapped in tidy plastic trays.