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Archive for the ‘self-sufficiency’ Category

This photo doesn’t begin to show how yummy these were. I used the biggest ones for the first meal. Most of them were about 1/2 – 2/3 this size. (Let’s pretend I didn’t take this picture.)

My folks were on vacation, and I was in charge of harvesting from their garden while they were gone. I came home with about a dozen zucchini, and no plans for it. I will eat sauteed or grilled zucchini, but I don’t like it too much.

If I could find a recipe that would let me hide the zucchini, use up some of the several dozen banty eggs from our hens, keep the meat out for “Meatless Mondays”, and will keep in the freezer for several more meals, it would be worth a try.

I discovered recipes for zucchini ravioli. My experience with ravioli is ala Chef Boyardee, which I loved as a kid. Homemade ravioli must be ten times better than anything from a can. So like a good cook, I first chose a 104 degree day to start this new cooking adventure! My plans were to flash freeze all of them because it was too hot to cook. But as I smelled the filling, I couldn’t help but fire up the oven and try them out the first night.

I started with this recipe as my guide, since I had never made pasta before. The how-to photos are very helpful:

http://www.savvyhousekeeping.com/zucchini-on-zucchini-raviolis/

While I’m sure this recipe is very good as written, I just can’t leave well enough alone. I always change recipes. Besides, the zucchini from this recipe was a little bit too visible for my picky self. I also had my heart set on marinara sauce.

So the variations to the recipe were as follows:

For the dough:

I use primarily whole wheat flour, although I did use a cup of white to help with the texture. We added rosemary and garlic directly to the dough. In our family you can’t have too much garlic. I also tripled the dough recipe. I don’t have a pasta maker and had to roll it out. I guess if I had a pasta maker, the dough would have gone farther.

Filling:

1 extra large onion

1 1/2 heads of garlic

thyme, oregano, savory, rosemary

1 c. of pesto that I had frozen from last year

4 medium zucchini, shredded with the water squeezed out as best as possible. A cheese cloth would work great for this, but I used a strainer and my fist.

1/2 parmesan cheese

2 c. ricotta

2 c. mozzerella

a little bit of salt

This made a ton of filling. I think I would scale back a little bit on the cheese, but it is cheese after all. I still had at least a cup of the mixture left at the end of the process, so I dumped it into the marinara sauce. Yum! More cheese.

My goal is to trick the kids into liking this ravioli with the cheesiness. As they grow to like it, I’ll add more zucchini and scale back on the cheese. I’m also thinking that spinach would be tasty in the mixture too, but I didn’t have any.

Two or three raviolis with sauce and a salad made a delicious meal. I made a meal for 3 the first night, and had enough left-over ravioli for 2 gallon size freezer bags. If you flash freeze them and then store them in the freezer bags, you can pull out just what you need for the evening meal.

The process was time consuming, it took about 3 hours start to finish. Some of the time was letting the dough rest. But I love it when I can make more than one home cooked meal at a time. The process was fun and would make a great project with a couple of friends cooking for an afternoon, and splitting the bounty at the end.

The ravioli were pretty inexpensive too. I buy flour in bulk, used eggs from my chickens, herbs from my garden, and zucchini from my folks. The only pricey thing was the cheese which probably cost about $4-7. I think in the end I made about 70 medium/large raviolis. All of us were satisfied with 3 for the meal so that works out to about 40 cents per serving. I cheated a little with the sauce. I used sauce from the grocery at $1.49. By the end of the summer, I’ll have homemade sauce for free and for more yumminess.

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I haven’t yet taken any time to talk about some of my favorite blogs.  I mention them from time-to-time, but I’d like to do a formal introduction.  That way you don’t miss out on important, useful, or useless but funny information.  I follow several, but we’ll start with these…

Jennifer by a table that Steve made for her (photo from The Common Milkweed)

The Common Milkweed

This is a great site for gorgeous photos of nature and gardening, for getting ideas of how to repurpose your junk, and to watch the transformation of a little rundown country house into a dream homestead.  The posts are simple, full of great ideas for living simply and green, and for inspiration.  They’ve linked back to my site, and I get daily traffic from them.  If you enjoy my blog, then you definitely need to head over to check out theirs.

I met Jennifer and Steve exactly one time at a teeny craft sale where we were selling our wares.  We became facebook friends, checked out one another’s etsy sites, and started following one another’s blogs.  Even though we only know one another through the blogs, I’m pretty sure they’re part of my tribe.

Photo from Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty - Visit this site for a smile 🙂

Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty

This is a blog that features the artwork of children.  Their dad is an artist that encourages his kids to be creative, and creative they are.  I was introduced to this blog through the friendly rock street art his kids were doing.  It’s a joyful little blog that makes me happy.

My daughter also likes the shadow puppet theatre that his kids performed for the book, When the Mountain Meets the Moon.

The Marvelous In Nature

If you love nerdy nature notes, then this is the blog for you.  Seabrooke Leckie is an author and illustrator for Peterson Field Guides.  She just finished a new guide on moths. Her blog documents her daily walks.  Her curiosity leads the reader into new discoveries.  Recently, she has shortened her blog posts, but still worth reading if you are a nature nut like me.

Stay tuned for more blogs that I love!

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My favorite hen, Goldie, is a Buff Orpington. The white hen is mentioned below. This is a view from inside our chicken ark. We move it daily so the chickens always have fresh grass. © Jenny Frech 2011

My friend, Kathy, gave us the three silky hens because she was downsizing her flock.  The hens were getting a bit long in the tooth, if chickens did indeed have teeth.

When we picked up the chickens, we put them in a crate in the back of the van.  On the trip home, the kids listened to Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies”, while the hens clucked away.  They only clucked during this particular song.  I’m not sure if they were trying to sing along, or if they were screaming from fright.

Because of their musical tendencies, we named the hens: Flutter, Poochie, and The GoGo.  Flutter and Poochie were two small black silkies.  The GoGo is gray.  Silkies are funny looking  because they only have downy feathers, hence the name silky.  They also have puffs on the top of their heads, that make them look like they are wearing royal wedding hats.

Poochie didn’t make it to her first winter with us, and Flutter too looks like she’s on her last chickeny legs.  The GoGo is still going strong.  She is quite the character.

Since we got her, she has tried to peck our arms off nearly every day while we gather eggs.  We tried keeping her back with long sticks, by wearing padded sweatshirts, and by trying to grab the eggs really fast.  She was a broody hen and golly dern it, she was not going to move.

We don’t have a rooster, so her attempts to incubate the eggs were futile.

Finally, I landed fertilized eggs for her to sit on.

I bought a dozen and put all but three on the nest.  Within the hour, one of the hens had cracked them all open.  The GoGo had to be moved into isolation if she was going to bring a baby to term.

We put her in a big plastic tub with food, water, straw, and the remaining three eggs.  The GoGo sat, barely moving for food or water for three weeks.  She looked thinner, but happy.  She still tried to take our arms off, but there was something a bit more tender in the way she tore at our flesh.

Three weeks later, one of the eggs hatched.  The other two sloshed around when shaken.  Gross.

The chick is a Rhode Island Red which will eventually be about three times her size.  The kids named the chick, Peachy.  The GoGo stayed in isolation with Peachy for another week.

Last weekend, The GoGo and her chick went into our movable chicken ark with the other hens.  The white Aracauna hen tried to grab her (definitely not in a motherly way), but The GoGo chased her away.  Peachy follows her around all day, ducking underneath her mama when trouble approaches.

It’s bizarre to look outside and see The GoGo out on the green grass.  We are so used to seeing her inside the dark shed huddled in the nesting corner.

She’s a lot happier now, and one heck of a mama.

Way to Go, GoGo!

The GoGo and her chick, Peachy: after all that talk about being proud of The GoGo being outside in the green grass, even strawberries wouldn't coax her out to get herself photographed. © Jenny Frech 2011

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Today is my birthday.  No biggie, everyone has them.  But to celebrate, I went around my yard taking photos of things that make me happy.

Yellow Rose that started blooming yesterday and larkspur

One of the many pots that resides on my porch. This year's pots turned out bright and cheerful.

The iceberg shrub rose is one of my very favorite roses in the whole wide world. It does okay in the shade, blooms all summer long and is bushy. I have gotten one for every house I've lived in.

One of the surprise peonies that I planted last year. I wish you could smell them!

This is my favorite peony in the whole wide world. It is an heirloom that was at my 100 year old house and I have moved a bit of it three times. The peonies started blooming yesterday.

I like these pinks and the weirdo photo.

We have 6 bluebird boxes. Two of them have tree swallow families in it. This one has four eggs, and the nest has a whole bunny tail in it. It's warm and fuzzy I suppose.

If you look very closely, you can see the other tree sparrow sticking it's head out of the box. I didn't use a zoom lens, I was about 5 feet away. The tree sparrows let you get very close and they are really entertaining.

The walk around my yard was nice, and two good friends came over for dinner,  AND a mystery teacher made me brownies and brought in vanilla bean ice cream.  You can’t beat that!

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Planting tomatoes is pretty easy , but there are a few tips to learn to make your planting experience successful.

  • Choosing your plants:  Look for plants that are sturdy without discoloration or spots.  I look for plants that are between six inches and 12 inches tall.  The plant in the following photos is generally bigger than the ones I usualy plant.  But our weather was nasty so it had to stay in the pot longer than I would have liked.  Also, try to avoid plants that already have blooms on them.  If they already have blooms, you will want to pinch them off so the plant can use it’s energy to grow the plant bigger and adjust to its new surroundings.
  • My plants go into raised beds, but you can also plant them directly into the ground or in pots.  If you choose to go the pot route, it should be a very big pot with a minimum of 5 gallons for the determinate plants (the ones that stop growing at a maximum size).  Other, like many of the heirlooms, will require very large pots.
  • If you are short on garden space, consider planting them right in with your flowers.  Tomatoes can add a lot of nice color to your flower beds.
  • Do not plant before your last frost date.  I usually wait about a week longer than that.  Putting your tomatoes out into the cold ground or at risk to frost won’t get you ahead.  I live in Northern Indiana, and I usually plant around May 15th.
  • Plan to plant the tomatoes about 3-4 feet apart. (I am a terrible example.  I always try to squeeze in too many, but I think I pay for it with lower fruit production.)

How to Do the Planting

Step 1: Start with making sure the plants are watered thoroughly before planting.

Step 2: Dig a hole deeper than the plant sat in the pot.

Step 3: Clean up the plant.  Pinch the lower leaves and any that are dried up or otherwise discolored. I always go quite a bit up the stem.

Step 4:  Turn the plant over and push on the bottom of the pot to remove. Very gently tug on the stem if it’s stuck. Also, if you are having any difficulty removing the plant, check the bottom. It could be root bound. If you see little white roots sticking out of the bottom, pinch them off with your fingers.

Step 5: If the roots are at all root bound, gently break them apart a bit before planting.

Step 6: Place the tomato into the hole. The hole should be deeper than the tomato was in the pot. All the fuzzy hairs on the stem are root hairs. Essentially, by planting your tomato deeper, you will be giving your plant a deep tap root. Also, the little hairs will develop into bigger roots.

Step 7:  Fill the hole back in with dirt.

Step 8: Water the plant thoroughly. You can give it a bit of fertilizer or compost. But, don’t overdo it or you will end up with lovely giant plants without a lot of fruit.

A very special thank you to my cooperative hand model, Jeremy.

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This week while planting tomatoes and digging in the dirt, I’ve also been digging up old feelings, dreams, and disappointments.

Tomatoes are a running theme in my life.

And I don’t even like tomatoes.

I hate the texture. They taste tart and plain. And to swallow one, gross.

But I love to grow them. At least I think I do. I grow them every year, so I must, right?

For the last 6 years I’ve grown colorful heirloom tomatoes from seed.

There are some bittersweet memories that my new friends and family don’t yet know.   Let’s back up this story.

On June 1, 2005, my thirty-first birthday, my ex-husband and I purchased 22 acres of farm land at an auction. The place was further out from our jobs than we had been looking, but the land was absolutely beautiful. It had rolling hills, some trees, lots of room for pastures and gardens, a nice spot for building a house, and a wetland full of frogs across the road.

I dreamed of being a farmer.

In second grade, I surprised myself with a drawing of a farmer, to the age-old question of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Since then, it’s been a dream of mine.

Immediately after the auction. I set out to plan how I could make enough money to live off the land and stay home with my daughter full-time.

I planned the crops that I could grow, and where to market my produce.

I had a goal of setting up a CSA (customer supported agriculture) where customers would come out to the farm to pick up produce once a week. I planned for sheep that we would put on the land, and I started making contacts.

The first year, as our new house was being built, I started about 500 tomato plants in the windows of my downtown house. I rotated the plants several times a day so they would all get enough light. About 300 of the plants made it into the field. By the end of July, I was going to the farmer’s markets with 50 varieties of tomatoes.

On a good day at the market, I would make about $100-$150. That seems pretty good, until you figure the actual time that goes into the whole process. Between weeding, tying up plants, tilling, picking, sorting, sitting at the market, and paying for supplies and market fees, I probably made about $3.50-$5.00 per hour.

The next year, I began selling tomato plants.

The tomatoes grew in little pots, which required lots more time, space, and energy. It’s not easy to fill little plastic pots with dirt and shove a plant in each one. (Okay, so it’s kind of easy, it just takes a lot of time).

It extended my season, and I probably increased my income by about $300 for the year.

While I transplanted baby tomatoes, my daughter played Polly Pockets.

When I weeded in the garden, she made dolls from weeds, and played Marco Polo in the corn. She hated waiting for me to finish my work. And I was too tired and busy to play.

Finally one day I woke up and realized that this dream of mine wasn’t working.

If it was just me, it would be okay to keep trying.

But it wasn’t just me. The main goal of trying to get this farm off the ground and running was so I could spend more time with my daughter. Except that I was spending less time.

My dream isn”t just to be a farmer anymore. My new dream is to be the best mom I can be.

So that final summer before my divorce I let the tomatoes rot in the field.

I planted them.

But I didn’t weed them

I didn’t try to sell any.

The plants just withered away.

The tomatoes rotted, but I didn’t care.

I didn’t care, because the relationship with my daughter didn’t rot.

I dug into finding a job that paid well enough to support her, giving up on my dream of being home with her full-time. A few hours a day with her was better than no time with her.   Any of the farm stuff would be hobby only, and I would only do the parts of it that we liked to do together.

The dream of spending more time with her is still alive.

In fact, I can see myself on the other side of busyness, being able work for myself inside the home, and maybe part-time for others.

The problem is that to get to that point, I have to spend extra energy and time away from her after work to make it happen. It’s really a catch 22.

There are business ideas rattling around in my head and dreamer’s heart.

But I still have a really hard time trusting my judgment. I feel like I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.  Some of them have felt like bad decisions. But without those mistakes, I suppose I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Being distrustful of my judgement,  doesn’t make the decision process any easier.

I grew tomatoes again this year. I lazily planted them in trays, and kind of neglected them.   I never transplanted them (transplanted plants become sturdier from the stress- another metaphor I suppose.) Some of this year’s tomato plants are wimpy. Some of the didn’t get hardened off enough. I didn’t plant all of my favorite varieties.   To grow tomatoes properly would have required missing out on The Muppet Show with Ellie, or playing that game of Othello, drawing fairies together, or helping her clean her room.

If any of those wimpy tomatoes grow, we’ll take a Saturday to make Salsa as a family.

This summer is shaping up to be a crazy one. If the going gets too tough, I am not opposed to letting the tomatoes rot.

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My favorite ipad case, it's really thick.

Since the beginning of February, we’ve had at least 6 snow days, maybe more.

I’ve lost count.  These unplanned days off throw me for a loop.  I don’t know what to do with myself.  I either fritter the day away on the computer, or pretend to clean the house.

For better or worse, we are getting ipads for all of our students next year.  The teachers got their ipads to try out a few weeks ago.  After handing them out, they told us that we needed to buy a cover for them, and that they weren’t too expensive, like $50.  I didn’t have $50 in the budget to buy a cover for something that wasn’t really mine anyway, so I improvised.

For sale at my etsy site etsy.com/shop/blewe

I made a cover from a felted wool sweater and I loved it.  Then I decided to make one for my friend that also didn’t have a cover yet.  I thought it turned out pretty cute.

Then I became obsessed.

Instead of frittering my snow days away on the computer, I spent my days frittering away making cozies for my computer!

I then decided that this would be a good thing to list on my etsy store, because they were cute, useful, and easy to make.

for sale on etsy

If you’d like to make your own, here’s how I did it.

1. Go to thrift stores or your closet to find cheap wool sweaters.  It works best if the sweaters are 100% wool.  Look for tags that say hand wash or dry clean only.  You can also use wool coats, blankets, and suits (although suitcoats usually have lots of tucks).

2. Wash them on the heavy cycle on hot.  It’s the combination of hot water, detergent and agitation that felts the wool fibers together.  Agitation is key.

3. Dry them in the dryer on high.

4. Cut out two pieces that are about the same width as your device.  You want them to fit snuggly and the wool will stretch a bit.  Cut one about four or five inches longer than the device for the flap.

5.  Blanket stitch the edges together with yarn.  I found a how to online.

for sale on etsy

6.  Add a button and a hole.  The wool will hold together without stitching around the buttonhole, but I usually stitch around it anyway.

7. Repeat to make gifts for friends.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of making one yourself, I have some ipad sleeves at my etsy store, Blewe, or I can custom make one for your ipad, laptop, or kindle.

Made from a wool coat. For sale on etsy

My other favorite. It's just so stripey!

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