Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Enter: The Holidays

It feels as if we're racing headlong into the winter holidays! Halloween today and then it's time to plan for Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving is Christmas - or so it seems.

It could be that Christmas comes before Halloween, though. According to some stores, it's been with us for awhile already. I do love Christmas from the beginning to the end and (shhhh... don't tell anyone) I listen to Christmas music now and then throughout the year. It's especially appealing in July and August when the weather is hot and all I want is a cool spell. "Jingle Bells" and "Winter Wonderland" brings on visions of snow and ice - perfect antidotes to sunburn and perspiration.

Be that as it may, I'm not quite ready to decorate for Christmas in October, much less September, when the first of Christmas hit some of the retail shelves!

It's a big season for businesses, of course, but I'm wondering if they'd sell just as much if they took each season as it came and waited until we were in the Christmas mood to hit us with all those bright and beautiful baubles?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Dehydrating Food

Sometimes articles about dehydrating food make it sound way too complicated! Drying food is one of the oldest ways of preserving it, and you know they didn't have electric, fan forced, enclosed for safety and nutrition dehydrators a thousand years ago. They didn't even have them a hundred years ago... so what are people thinking, to create charts and thermometers and expensive dehydrators to ensure the food is dried properly?

Beats me.

Anyway, here's a piece that's a little more low key:
Simple Dehydrators and Other Ways to Dry Food

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Digging Potatoes

We finally got a hard freeze the other night and the volunteer potato plants wilted, so it was time to dig and find the treasure nature had stored underground. These late emerging plants had come up in the midst of a new compost area, so I worked around it all summer long, letting them grow as much as they would.

The first crop, if you can call four hills a crop, was dug a month or so ago, and part of the bounty already eaten, so I was looking forward to a few more before having to go back to grocery store potatoes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for those holey plastic bags that carry clean, well formed potatoes from faraway fields to my grocer's shelves - never mind that there are many potato fields starting only a mile from my home - but fresh potatoes straight from the garden can't be beat.

So, for not having planted these late growing potatoes, it was a pretty good harvest. Three big bakers, a couple of in betweens and a half dozen small new boiling potatoes. For free, that's not bad. That's a few more meals straight from the goodness of sunshine, earth and rain in my own backyard.

I think, with a little more effort and a little more yard dug up, I can grow a real crop of potatoes. Since I don't have a good place to keep them through the winter, I'll be happy if I can grow enough to last through Christmas dinner - a project for next year.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I got the sudden urge for biscuits and gravy this morning, so on my way home from an errand, I decided I'd just go home and make some. It took me many years to learn to make biscuits "the way Mom does," but I'm pretty confident about making them now. Mom made them different from most recipes I've found in that she never added fat to them. When I'd mention this, people wouldn't believe that you could make a good biscuit without fat added.

I might have believed it myself, because, as I said, it took many years before I could make them. I watched Mom from start to finish, I asked for measurements, I tried and tried and they just never turned out good. I don't know how many pans of hard biscuits, doughy biscuits and otherwise inedible biscuits I tried to pawn off on the dog. Sometimes the chickens wouldn't even eat them.

In desperation, one day I thought I'd do it exactly like Mom - hardly thinking of what I was doing, just doing it. I set my mind to other things, got out the flour and salt and baking powder and threw them together in a bowl. Was that enough? Maybe just a little more... a little more. There, that ought to do it. Now, the salt... sprinkle, sprinkle... a little bit more. More? Ok.

I mixed it up, poured in some milk, mixed and patted it out on the table to be cut into biscuits, just like Mom did. That's the first time my biscuits tasted just like Mom's. Not too light, not too heavy and just right to sop up some milk gravy or dripping butter.

I learned the gravy the same way, too. Don't worry about it. Put in some fat, some flour, stir it up and let it cook a minute, then dump in the milk. Really. It worked for me, anyway.

This morning's biscuits though were a little different. I was using leftover powdered milk and didn't have quite enough, so I decided to use the dab of leftover reconstituted condensed milk. As I rinsed the container, I realized it was a little sour - too late. The biscuits were mixed and cut, waiting in the pan. Oh, well...

Then I noticed a flame in the bottom of the oven. I'd baked fruitcake and forgot that it had risen over the pans and spilled onto the oven floor. Baking soda put the flame out quickly, but the oven smelled like... well, like something had burned in it. I aired it out a few minutes, and turned the heat down 10 degrees, hoping that the fire wouldn't start again.

It turned out pretty good, after all. The biscuits rose without baking soda and the fire stayed dead with it. What more could I ask? :)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Some posts...

Some posts spawn a lot of comments, some none. It's hard to tell which one will do what - at least for me.

The one titled "Predictions," a post or two below this one, got a lot of them. It could be that the topic is one that's on a lot of people's minds right now. There's some very good advice in those comments. They're worth reading.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Homesteading in the city

Want to see a picture of what I've been up to?

My hobo bag

That's not all, of course. Yesterday, I gathered lambsquarter seed to try in bread. I've never tried it before, so this will be something new to me. I can't decide what would be the best way to separate the seeds from the husks or whatever those tiny green coverings are. The seed is very small, so it's going to be interesting.

Also, I made yogurt cheese for the first time, then I made chip dip from it by adding chives from the garden. Haven't tasted that yet, but the cheese is pretty good!

We've had a couple of light frosts, but it hasn't hurt my raised bed gardens. My nephew is coming whenever I call him to pick the rest of the green tomatoes and pull up the vines. There are still green peppers out there, too, besides the monster radishes and finally bolted lettuce.

I pulled the onion I planted from a bunch of green ones - got three nice onions from it, very large for green onions, small otherwise, but it was a definite increase over what was planted. The tops were well over 2 feet high. I cut and dehydrated the tops and will do the rest today.

I guess I'll just homestead here in the city. ;)

Monday, October 15, 2007


Maybe they just meant to keep us on our toes, but it seems like we worried a lot last summer over things that didn't happen.

The first was that terrorist "chatter" seemed to indicate a major attack on the US during the summer Either Homeland Security really is doing a good job, or it was all a political ploy - or the chatter was misread. Maybe they meant someone else's summer?

The second prediction to worry us was that the hurricane season would be worse than usual for the US. It hasn't happened. Granted, we're not at the end of the season yet, but it won't be long. Let's hope and pray we can continue treading water until it's all over this year.

Here's one you do need to worry about. Well, not worry, but prepare: If you remember my column at, I predicted that the cost of groceries would continue to rise due to weather and natural disasters. If you've been in a grocery store lately, you know that one has come true.

The economy is on a crash course. It may not happen this year or even next, but it will happen. Since food costs aren't included in much factoring of the economy, it looks like we're doing all right. We can look like anything we please if we use a political mirror to behold ourselves in.

I'm still giving the same old advice: Get out of debt, tighten your budget, diversify everywhere you can, and by "everywhere," I mean everywhere from food storage to investments.

Don't just keep "getting by." If everything blows over and nothing happens? The worst will be that you're in better financial shape than ever.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's too early for Christmas - isn't it?

I can't help it. I keep thinking about Christmas. It's one thing to plan ahead and another to obsess about it - one thing to stash a few things throughout the year and yet another to want to finish the shopping right now and put up the tree!

I just hope this "Christmas spirit" either lasts (maybe not) until Christmas or that it goes away and reappears at a more appropriate time. Usually if I start too early, I'm all worn out of the mood come Christmas Day. That would be heresy at the forum at My Merry Christmas, one of my favorite Christmas sites. They're always ready for Christmas over there. I don't spend a lot of time there, but I can't resist the temptation to slip in now and then when the mood strikes.

Frugal is as frugal does, though, and all this talk about Christmas makes me put on my frugal thinking cap at last. What shall I give? What to make? What bargains to look for? Where to look? It's a lot more fun when we have time to really work it over.

It's a great frugal satisfaction to know that you've found quality gifts and food and entertainment for the lowest price. Getting it done early is great, too, because we can relax and enjoy the holidays instead of scrambling to do everything we think we should do.

A couple of threads at Dollar Stretcher Community about Christmas plans are My plans for Christmas and Stocking stuffers. They're fun threads with lots of good ideas.

Well, I'm rambling, but it's nearly 4 AM. Lots of nights are split into early sleeping and late sleeping now. I guess I just have to accept it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

From the Rag Bag

I've got a new post at Lehman's Country Life blog - it's moderated and I'm limited to once a month or less... whenever they want me to write. Anyway, this post is Real Rag Rugs, about making rugs from real rags. Or real rag rugs. Or real rags, made into rugs.

Look over the rest of the site while you're there. There's some good reading (and I'm not just saying that because... well, you know.)

About those rags: I hope you have a rag bag or basket to work from. Rugs, patchwork, cleaning cloths, grease rags or whatever you use them for, don't throw them out. Hem the ones you want to use to clean with and they last a lot longer, besides not leaving ravelings in the washing machine. Heavy or nonabsorbent material makes good grease or workshop rags, but save the "good" stuff to make things from - and not just rugs, though that's a good place to start.

Potholders, patchwork table cloths or curtains or aprons or... or quilts. Placemats, coasters, dresser or table scarves, headscarves...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Garden, Again

I haven't been posting much here lately! Sometimes it seems like just getting through the day takes all the energy I can muster, especially this time of year, when it seems like plans and projects are at every turn. Getting ready for winter, finishing off the garden and yard chores, thinking forward to the holidays, putting away summer things, and on it goes.

I haven't quite finished with the garden yet. I keep thinking I should just tear up the plants, shovel under what I can and be done with it, but it just won't stop and I can't bring myself to destroy plants that are still producing. I found two ripe tomatoes today and the beans that I let dry are blooming again. They're not supposed to do that; they're supposed to die once they've brought seed (dried beans) to maturity. And the lentils I didn't get harvested in time are growing new plants.

And then, there are those radishes. That's a five inch retaining wall in the foreground.

And here's a very poor version, with a coffee cup... I don't know why I didn't think to put the cup with the other pictures, but I ran out of time to experiment by the time I thought of it.

I don't think I'll get any seed from them because as they bloom, a seed pod starts forming, then disappears. It could be insects or birds or squirrels, or it could be the weather, the soil or the plant itself. I should just dig them up, but...