Thursday, July 28, 2011

July in Review and August 2011 Preps

July in Review:

The Garden -

July has been a tough month. Like much of the nation, we've been under the grip of a heatwave that just won't let go. We have had over two weeks of temperatures well in the 100s and very little rain. When I walk across our now beige-colored lawn, it sounds like I'm stomping on corn chips.

Our poor garden has suffered as a result. We've been watering daily, but there's only so much 110 degree weather that a plant can take. Compare these photos to my last garden update.

The beans gave up the ghost a bit earlier than they would have. Thankfully, we harvested a ton of beans before the heatwave hit. That sprawled out mess towards the back of the photo and under Hubby Dear's finger is our potatoes. We had a lot of wind one night that toppled them over. They are still alive, however, and have even sent out new green shoots. We're just letting them be and keeping our fingers crossed.

Tomatoes refuse to set fruit in this kind of weather, and the fruit that they already have ripens slowly. The local paper reported that when nighttime lows are consistently in the upper 80s and nineties, it messes with the plant's metabolism. Same thing with the peppers.

We're still battling the occasional hornworm . Mini Me is traumatized for life after hornworm "juice" sprayed on her as Hubby Dear squished one of the little buggers.

Our corn has fared the worst of all. The second and third boxes have pretty much stopped growing. If we had planted our corn just a week or two earlier, it probably would have been mature enough to weather the blistering heat. Oh well.

Our Baby Pam pumpkins are ripening much faster than expected. They should have another month of growth, but the fruit is turning orange and the vines are starting to die back. We'll see what happens.

The blackberries weren't bothered by the heat. They just keep giving their glorious, juicy berries. The success of the berries is sweet consolation.

Hubby Dear has begun planting the fall garden. He delayed it slightly in the hope that it will cool down a bit and give the seeds a chance to germinate.

Other July Preps -

-Woohoo! We finally have a year's supply of wheat and pasta! I also bought oats, popcorn, sugar, rice, and flour and packed it all for long term storage in mylar bags and buckets.

-Speaking of mylar bags, I won't be buying mine from Emergency Essentials anymore. This last batch they sent me was more plastic-y, if that makes sense. I immediately noticed a difference in the way they felt. When I went to seal the bag with my iron, the bag melted and ripped instead of sealing. Not cool! I'll be buying my bags from a different vendor from now on.

-I have been busy preserving what produce managed to survive the heat. I've frozen green beans, green bell peppers, jalapenos, and blackberries. I've canned massive amounts of blackberry jam and some dilled green beans. I used my Excalibur to dry parsley I gathered from my herb garden.

-Miscellaneous food storage: I also added several cans of ghee, evaporated milk, vinegar, maple syrup and brown sugar.

-I added some more freebies to my BOB - floss, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner.

-I haven't killed the aloe plant I bought. In fact, it seems to be thriving. Also on the first aid front, I bought some cold packs and gauze for cheap using coupons.

-I'm loving my Bosch mixer! It easily handles multiple batches of whole wheat bread dough.

August Preps:

-I haven't nailed down exactly what I'm doing or purchasing. I definitely will continue to work on our food storage. I need to buy more oils, cereal for our three month supply, dry milk, and other food storage essentials. I should really be canning more meat, but I will wait until after my heavy canning months.

-We're going to keep plugging away in the garden. I'll be canning/freezing/dehydrating the harvest and posting about that. I'm praying that the heat lets up and that our tomato harvest is bountiful. Hoping for some cucumbers so I can make my grandma's cinnamon pickle recipe. You can keep track of my totals in the "Harvest 2011" sidebar on the righthand side of my blog.

-Hubby Dear and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary with a weekend trip to the big, big city. We're going to investigate the Cabela's store near the B&B we're staying at. Nothing says romance like fishing lures and ammo! ;)

-Not exactly a prep, but kind of, and very important: we start our homeschool year on August first.

How has the weather been in your locale? What have your done to prep this month?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One Thing To Do With Those Pecks Of Peppers

Do you remember how expensive produce was last winter?? Even in a normal year, I regularly have to pay between $2-3 per red bell pepper in January. That's both ridiculous and completely unnecessary.

Peppers from my garden

If you have access to a bunch of garden-fresh peppers, it couldn't be easier to freeze them for future use.

I like to cut the top off the pepper and then scoop out the seeds. Next, I cut the pepper in half and pop the pieces in a freezer bag. That's it! You can cut the peppers into smaller pieces before freezing, but I prefer to freeze halves so I can customize the size of pepper pieces for each dish. I simply grab the number of pepper halves that I need for the recipe and throw the rest back in the freezer. It only takes a minute or two of thawing before the peppers will be soft enough to cut with a chef's knife.

I also freeze jalapenos, poblanos, and other peppers using this method.

One of these days, I'll break out the dehydrator and try my hand it dehydrating peppers. But until then, to the freezer they go.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fresh From the Garden: Cucumbers in Dressing

This is a recipe my mother-in-law makes frequently during the summer for family get-togethers. It's sweet, creamy, and has a nice zip from the vinegar and dill.

I used green onions, dill, and cucumbers from our garden. Hubby Dear teased
me that I was a slacker for not making the mayo from scratch, too! 

Cucumbers in Dressing

1 c. mayo
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
4 t. white vinegar
1 t. chopped fresh dill
3 green onions, chopped
4-6 medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced

Mix together the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fresh From the Garden: Blackberry Cobbler

I apologize for the formatting issues you may see on this and other recent posts. I'm having issues with Blogger working, period, much less formatting correctly.

I'm starting a new category of posts - Fresh From the Garden. These posts will feature recipes that are based on seasonal garden produce. Many of them will also be food storage-friendly.

Blackberries! We're getting inundated and I love it!

Now that I've canned 24 half-pints of blackberry jam*, I've started freezing pint containers of blackberries for cobblers. Here is a quick and easy cobbler recipe that my family really enjoys.

Fresh out of the oven and ready to devour

Blackberry Cobbler
Slightly adapted from this Betty Crocker recipe

2 1/2 cups blackberries
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. milk
A dash of vanilla extract
A stick of butter, melted

In a medium bowl, stir together blackberries and sugar. Let stand about 30 minutes or until fruit syrup forms. My firm, fresh berries needed a little help releasing their juice, so I had to gently press a few of them to get the syrup going. If you are using frozen, thawed berries, you may not need to do that. Preheat oven to 375°F.

In another medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, milk, and vanilla. Stir in melted butter until blended. Spread in ungreased 8-inch square pan. Spoon blackberry mixture over batter.

Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until dough rises and is golden.

*If you want to track my progress, check out the "Harvest 2011" box in my sidebar. I'm keeping a tally of what I add to my pantry or freezer from our garden.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Using Your Food Storage: Chicken Cobbler with Caramelized Onions

Hubby Dear was on-call from 5 pm Friday until 7 am Monday. That meant that every person that showed up at our hospital with ailments large or small was seen by him. Needless to say, we didn't see very much of him over the weekend and he was very worn out by this morning.

To thank him for his hard work providing for his family, I made one of Hubby Dear's favorite meals today. Chicken Cobbler with Caramelized Onions is rich, comforting, and, of course, can be made entirely from your food storage. I use refrigerated piecrusts as a time-saver, though of course you can make your crusts from scratch if you are so inclined.

My photography does not do this dish justice. Try it - you (or your significant other) won't be sorry!

Digging in

Chicken Cobbler with Caramelized Onions

1/3 c. butter (or canned butter or canned clarified butter/ghee)
2 large onions, diced (or 1 c. dry onions, rehydrated)
1/4 c. flour
1-12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 T. chicken bouillon granules (or 3 bouillon cubes)
1/4 t. pepper
3 c. coarsely chopped cooked chicken (or 1-2 jars/cans of chicken)
3 T. chopped fresh parsley (or 3 t. dry parsley)
1-15 oz. package refrigerated piecrusts (See recipe below to make from scratch)
1/2 c. finely chopped pecans, toasted
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese (freshly grated or the stuff from the green can)

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion, and saute 20 minutes or  until caramel colored. Add flour; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Gradually stir in evaporated milk and chicken broth. Add bouillon and cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in pepper, chicken and parsley. Pour chicken mixture into a lightly greased 10 inch deep dish pieplate or a round casserole dish.

If you are using pre-made piecrusts, unfold them and press out fold lines. Sprinkle 1 piecrust with pecans and Parmesan cheese. Top with remaining piecrust. Roll into a 14 inch circle; press edges to seal. Cut into 1/2 inch wide strips. Arrange strips in a lattice design over filling, reserving any extra strips.

Bake at 425 for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.

Place remaining strips on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 425 for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with cobbler.

Pie crust - makes two crusts
Adapted from a recipe from Crisco

2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup shortening, chilled
4-8 tbsp ice cold water

Blend flour and salt in medium mixing bowl.

Cut chilled shortening into 1/2-inch cubes. Cut chilled shortening cubes into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Sprinkle half the maximum recommended amount of ice cold water over the flour mixture. Using a fork, stir moisture evenly into flour.  Add more water by the tablespoon, until dough is moist enough to hold together when pressed together. Divide dough in two. Shape into disks, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for thirty minutes. Roll each disk out into  a 12" circle and proceed with recipe.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review of Tattler Reusable Canning Lids PLUS My Best Blackberry Jam Recipe

Last month I bought 6 dozen Tattler reusable canning lids. I finally had a chance to put them to the test last week.

The typical canning lids available everywhere cannot be used more than once. They also contain BPA, which has been shown to be a health hazard. Not only are Tattler lids reusable almost indefinitely, but they also are BPA free. I was eager to give them a shot.

Each canning lid consists of a rigid plastic lid and a flexible rubber ring. The rubber ring takes the place of the sealing compound. You must also use metal canning lid rings but they are NOT included with the Tattler lids.

The procedure for using the lids is a little different. It is easy, but it definitely takes some getting used to.

  1. Scald the lids and rings. Keep hot while you prepare your product.

  2. Place the rubber ring on the lid and center the lid on your canning jar.

  3. Barely screw on the metal ring. Make sure the canning lid is centered on the jar, then hold the lid down with one finger as you tighten the metal ring.

  4. Once the ring is tight, unscrew it by 1/4 inch to allow for venting during processing.

  5. Process the jars according to your recipe directions.

  6. Once you have removed the jars from the cannner, carefully tighten the ring completely.

The trickest part of the procedure is tightening the ring after processing. The jars are extremely hot and even though I was using a pot holder, I still managed to burn my fingers.

So, do these lids work? After processing several jars of blackberry jam both with standard and Tattler lids, I would have to say yes. My first batch of 8 jars, all using Tattler lids, yielded three that failed to seal. I have never had a jar fail to seal in all my years of canning, and so I was really disappointed. However, I have learned from sad experience that if a product has received rave reviews and I have issues with it, it is more than likely operator error! I decided to try again.

My second batch of jam had 5 jars with standard lids and three with Tattlers. All the Tattlers sealed and two of the standard lids didn't seal. In my third batch, one of the standard lids didn't seal. I think the problem is more me than the canning lids! I'm thinking that maybe I didn't clean the rims and threads well enough before I put the lids on.

All in all, if you do a lot of canning, I think Tattler lids are well worth the investment. They are more expensive initially, but last practically forever. From a preparedness standpoint, they are essential. From an environmental and health perspective, they are great, too. I recommend them.

Here's the recipe I used to put the Tattler through its paces. It is my favorite rendition of blackberry jam. I prefer to crush my berries with a food mill so I can control the amount of seeds that end up in the finished product.

Blackberry Jam

Blackberries to yield 4 c. crushed - read directions below. I find it takes me about 50 oz. of berries.
7 c. sugar
1/2 t. unsalted butter (this will help reduce foaming)
1-3 oz. pouch liquid pectin

Process blackberries through a food mill fitted with a berry screen. Run the pulp through the mill twice to extract the maximum amount of juice. Measure out 3 c. of juice and add 1 c. of the pulp back to yield 4 cups total.

(Note: If you do not have a food mill, you can just crush berries with a potato masher. Your jam will have more seeds and texture, but it will taste just fine.)

In a large saucepan, combine blackberries, sugar, and butter. Over medium-low heat, heat the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in the pectin and boil for one minute. Stir, stir, stir! Remove pan from the heat and skim off any foam.

Allow jam to cool 5 minutes, gently stirring a few times. This will help keep the juice and fruit evenly distributed in the finished product. Ladle the jam into hot jars, maintaining 1/4 inch headspace. Add your lids and process the jam for 10 minutes in a 200 degree water bath.

Yield - About 8 half-pint jars

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why I'm Not Canning Green Beans This Year

We've harvested over 15 pounds of green beans from our garden so far. Assuming the garden survives the next week (the highs are projected to be in the 100s for the next seven days), we'll continue to get beans for several weeks.

Normally, I'd be canning all those green beans. Not this year. Here's why:
  1. The beans don't develop all at once. We pick beans every other day and end up with enough beans to fill about two or three quart jars. While pressure canning green beans isn't hard, processing 2-3 qts every two days for weeks on end is kind of a drag.
  2. My family really doesn't care for canned green beans. There are few things more depressing than to proudly serve my home-grown and home-canned green beans only to have everyone avoid eating them. Well, Baby Dear loves them, but everyone else only eats them out of a sense of duty.  
  3. My family will eat frozen green beans - and they couldn't be easier to prepare. They stay a vibrant green and are definitely not mushy. They also maintain more of their nutrition since they are significantly less processed.

How to prepare green beans for freezing:

Getting ready to blanch the beans
  1. Wash the beans and remove the stem ends. I remove both ends of the bean, but you can leave the little curly end on, if you prefer.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil.
  3. Blanch the beans in boiling water for three minutes. Drain, then chill the beans in ice water for another three minutes. Drain. While it may be tempting, don't skip this step. You must blanch the beans to deactivate the enzymes in the beans. You'll end up with a much nicer end product with the blanching/chilling process.
  4. Package and freeze.

Vacuum sealed and ready for the freezer 

As a person who has made preparedness her hobby, I get in this mindset that all my food storage has to be shelf stable. I still love to can and I believe that the majority of my food storage should indeed be shelf stable. Sometimes you just gotta do what you like and do what works for your family. We're going to eat these green beans with pleasure and be a bit more self-reliant in the process.

Are we the lone canned green bean haters out there? How do you balance shelf-stable vs. perishable foods in your food storage? 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fall gardening

It's prime gardening season. The cucumbers are coming by the bucket-load, we're finally getting some tomatoes, and it's hot enough to bake cookies in the car. Time to plan and plant your garden for those chilly fall days!

Believe it or not, it's true.

This is our first real effort at fall-time gardening.  In previous years, we have either been too tired or disillusioned with garden failure to attempt it, but with things going as well as they are, we decided to jump in. I hope the following tips will help you if you're toying with the idea of gardening this fall.

Research, research, research!

The first thing we did, and the first thing you should do if you're considering a fall garden for the first time, is to find out what you can grow in the fall in your area. Your state extension service (usually connected with a land grant university) is a good place to start for this kind of information. Click here if you need help finding  your state extension service.

For example, a lot of you may be able to grow peas as a fall crop. Not us. It just won't work in our area because of our torrid summer temperatures. I didn't believe the warnings from the state extension service and tried it out last year with dismal results. I learned my lesson!

After our research, Hubby Dear and I decided that we would try and plant:
  • Lettuce - We're planting the same Winter Density romaine that we had such great results with in the spring.  
  • Salad Mix - This time we're going with Johnny's Wildfire Lettuce Mix. I was attracted to this mix because it has a higher proportion of red-leafed lettuces (ie. it's purty!)
  • Spinach - This is a new crop for us. We're planting Red Cardinal.
  • Beets - The beets we planted this spring made wonderful pickled beets. I'm hoping for a bountiful crop this fall. We're planting Red Ace, the same variety from the spring.
  • Broccoli - This, as well as cauliflower, is something we've never tried to grow. We're going to direct seed it in our garden. Our state extension service both recommends direct seeding broccoli and cauliflower AND warns against it in the same document. I guess we'll see what happens! We're planting the Bay Meadows variety.
  • Cauliflower - See broccoli. We're trying Amazing, which is supposed to withstand both heat and cold. If it grows, well, that would be amazing!
  • Carrots - We've liked the Nelson carrots from our spring garden. We're going to try them again this fall.
  • Radishes - Radishes can get pithy and/or very strong tasting in the heat of summer. We're trying a new variety, Crunchy Royale, and seeing how it does. 
  • Cabbage - We loved the Farao we had in the spring, but it is a spring-only variety. We're trying the very non-poetically named Storage No. 4 for the fall.
  • Swiss Chard - I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never even tasted chard, much less cooked or grown it. This will be a new adventure all the way around. We're growing Bright Lights, which looks like it will be a beautiful addition to our garden.  

Here is the resulting garden plan:

Personalize the plan for your garden - especially if you Square Foot Garden 

All the squares in orange represent existing plantings. If you look closely, you'll notice that we had to add in a few squares of "overflow" for our pumpkins and some of the tomatoes. These plants are not behaving themselves and sticking to their assigned squares and we haven't had the heart to pinch them back. We're just going to give them wide berth and plant around them.

You'll also see our strange checkerboard of cabbage in the southwest corner of our garden. First of all, that area was supposed to be strawberries. Every single last strawberry plant there died. Major bummer and quite the head-scratcher. (Our working theory is that Hubby Dear over-fertilized them. He fertilized Mini Me's strawberries in her box at the same rate and about half survived. Who knows what happened?) We'll try again next year, but this fall we thought we'd try cabbages there. We're planting them in the checkerboard arrangement because we found that our spring cabbage got so huge that it needed extra room.  

Beat the heat

In addition to selecting the right types of plants for your climate and the best varieties of those plants for fall gardening, there are a few things to keep in mind as you establish your fall garden during the hot months of July and August.  
  1. Plant seeds slightly deeper than you would in the spring. Deeper soil will be slightly cooler and more moist, and that can increase your germination rates.
  2. You're also going to want to plant more seeds than you need. Those hot August temperatures can stifle germination, so it's better to over-seed just in case. You can always thin out the extra plants later.
  3. Lastly, don't forget to water, water, water, especially as the seeds are germinating.

Are you a fall gardener? Do you have any tips to share?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Can You Use a Mini-Van to Bake Cookies?

Like much of the nation, it has been darn hot around here the past few days. Day after day of 100 degree+ temperatures must have caused me to crack, because this afternoon I got the notion to try and bake cookies in my van. You've probably seen people on the news frying eggs on the sidewalk during heat waves. An egg just wasn't going to cut it; I wanted chocolate chip cookies.

A quick Google search led me to the Baking Bites blog where someone had already tried baking chocolate chip cookies in her car.  I "preheated" my van while I made the dough. I pulled my van out of the garage and pointed it towards the west-southwest, where it would get the maximum amount of afternoon sun. I used the Baking Bites recipe as a starting off point, adding in a few drops of double-strength vanilla extract and using regular size chocolate chips instead of the mini-chips specified.

Dished out and ready to bake

The Baking Bites recipe uses a slice and bake method to form the cookies. I chose to forgo this, relying instead on a cookie scoop like this to dish out equal amounts of dough. I gently flattened each cookie with my hand, hoping that would help the cookies bake evenly. The author of Baking Bites blog also lined her cookie sheet with parchment paper. I skipped this and simply sprayed the pan with cooking spray. The reason? I've watched enough videos about solar ovens to know that dark-colored cookware works best and white parchment would reflect the sun's energy. My old aluminum cookie sheets would have to do.

I placed a double layer of towels on the dashboard, placed my cookie sheet on top, shut the door, and crossed my fingers. The temperature outside was 100 degrees according to the National Weather Service, a brutal 108 degrees according to the thermometer on my deck and the perspiration on my body.

The baking begins!

Unfortunately, I didn't think to place a thermometer inside the van, so I'm not sure how hot it eventually got in there. I checked the cookies (from the outside) every 30 minutes. I didn't want to let the heat escape so I kept the door shut.

At thirty minutes - the cookies have spread out and look moist

One hour has elapsed - not much has changed, but they have spread out a little more

I'll spare you the photo at an hour and a half. It pretty much looked the same as at one hour. At this point I was wondering if this would really work.

When I went outside at two hours, I went ahead and opened the door and touched a cookie. To my utter shock, they were done!

Pallid, but cooked!

How do cookies baked in a mini-van compare to those baked in an oven?

When you cook in a mini-van (or any solar oven, for that matter) things don't brown quite like they do in a standard oven. The cookies on the left were baked in my oven; the ones on the right came out of the van. As for the taste test, I much preferred the ones from the oven, though I wouldn't turn my nose up at the mini-van ones. The Thinker actually preferred them.

 So there you go. You CAN bake in a mini-van.

Monday, July 11, 2011


I just love babies! They're so tiny and sweet. Sure, they take up a lot of time. You've got to feed them and clean up after them and sometimes, they drive you crazy. But they are just so darn cute...

Baby watermelon (Aptly named variety: Little Baby Flower)

Teensy weensie cucumbers (Alibi)

Precious little pumpkin (Another appropriate variety name: Baby Pam)

One cute cantaloupe (Minnesota Midget)

We found this egg in our raspberry brambles a few weeks ago.I don't know if the baby hatched out of this mystery egg or if something ate the contents.

What a joy it is to nuture a baby (or a garden) and watch it thrive!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Using Your Food Storage: Spicy Raisin Flats

Before I got married to Hubby Dear, I went through my Mom's recipe collection and copied all her best recipes into a little cookbook of my own. Not surprisingly, these old-fashioned favorites are some of my most frequently used recipes.

And then there's this recipe:

My copy of the recipe for Spicy Raisin Flats

I vaguely remember my Mom making these cookies when I was a kid, but it has been at least 20 years since I've cooked or eaten a Spicy Raisin Flat.  I remember them as dense, sweet, bar cookies full of warm, spicy flavor. And the best thing? They can be made entirely from food storage.

My original copy of the recipe was missing a few key pieces of information: how long they cook, at what temperature they cook, and the quantities of the glaze ingredients. I just winged it and it turned out fine. I've re-written the recipe for clarity and to reflect my "winging".

Warm out of the oven

My kids absolutely LOVED these cookies. The Thinker said they taste like Christmas.  See if you agree.

Spicy Raisin Flats

Spicy Raisin Flats

1 c. raisins
1 c. water
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/2 c. shortening
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg (or 1 T. dry egg powder + 2 T. water)
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 c. powdered sugar
1-2 t. milk (can be reconstituted dry milk or even water in a pinch)

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine raisins and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until only about 1/4 c. of juice remains. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together shortening, both types of sugar, and egg. (If you are using powdered eggs, just add the water at this point.)

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and powdered egg (if using).

Mix the flour mixture in with the shortening mixture. Then add in the raisin mixture. Spread on a greased, rimmed cookie sheet and bake until set, about 15 minutes. These cookies are meant to be moist and soft, not crispy.

In a small bowl, slowly add just enough milk to the powdered sugar to make a thin glaze. Ice the cookies while they are still hot. The more glaze, the better these cookies taste. Allow to cool, cut, and serve.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Playing Taps for My KitchenAid and Other Miscellany

Back when I was a child bride, Hubby Dear loved to indulge me by buying kitchen equipment that we could not afford. I've never been one for jewelry, but I always want the latest, greatest kitchen gadget. For Christmas one year, he bought me the mixer of my dreams - a KitchenAid Professional 600

Rest in Peace, dear KitchenAid 

My KitchenAid served me well for over ten years. I was never totally happy with the job it did kneading bread dough; the dough seemed to just ride around and around the dough hook rather than get kneaded. Last week, I was making a double batch of EZ Whole Wheat Bread in it and things got truly ugly. First, I smelled a "hot" smell. I turned the mixer off for a minute or two, but I still had 7-8 minutes of kneading left, so I felt like I had to turn it back on. Big mistake. Smoke began pouring out and it quit running. I hoped that it would begin working again after a long cool down, but, alas, it seems like I killed it really and truly.

Hubby Dear and I debated fixing up my KitchenAid vs. buying a new mixer. From the research I did, it seems like it can be just about as expensive to fix a stand mixer as it would be to buy a new one. If I'm going to have to spend hundreds of dollars anyway, I'd just as soon get a new mixer, preferably one that is better for making bread. So I'm getting a Bosch

I don't think the Bosch will look very cute on my counter, but the fact that you can make up to 6 loaves of bread in it at once more than makes up for that! This month, many Bosch retailers are offering a $50 rebate, which helps make it more reasonable. Still, it's quite an investment. I hope it lasts me a decade like its predecessor.

I bought an aloe plant this week, too. Much easier on the budget than a Bosch! ;)

Aloe vera

I'm not much on houseplants - if I can't eat it, I'm not interested in messing with it - but it seems like my neglect won't kill it.  As I read here, aloe plants need a bit of sun and very little water. I think I can do that. Here are some of the uses of aloe plants. I think an aloe plant is an excellent addition to our first aid supplies.  

I was walking through the garden the other day and I ran smackdab into this:

Yuck! A Tomato Hornworm!

This is the first time we have ever had tomato hornworms in our garden. I can safely say that they are one of the most disgusting garden pests I have ever seen. Not only are they disgusting, but they are also very destructive. They can reduce a healthy tomato plant to a skeleton in 24-48 hours. Tomato hornworms are found most often on tomato plants (surprise), but they also like potatoes and peppers, which are members of the same botanical family.

Picking them off by hand is the preferred method of dealing with this pest. Yeah, um, no. I'm not going to do that. Have I ever mentioned that I have a serious phobia of caterpillars and butterflies? (Really. Long story involving a traumatic childhood incident.) This is the biggest, most foul caterpillar I've ever seen, and I have no intention of touching one if I can help it. Hubby Dear did remove it from the plant and then he sprayed our tomato plants with Neem Py (an organic-approved pesticide with neem oil and a bit of pyrethrin).

I was nervous that our outrageously healthy tomato plants would be consumed overnight, but when the next day dawned, everything seemed OK.

Last night, however, we saw three hornworms. There were two on two different tomato plants and one on our potatoes. Ick! Hubby Dear picked them off and then he dusted the tomatoes and potatoes with Bt, another organic-approved pesticide. Bt is actually a bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, that kills caterpillars. I'm crossing my fingers that this does the trick. I will cry if my tomatoes get ruined before we ever get to eat them, and by caterpillars to boot!

That's my week in a nutshell. What prepping/gardening/food storage -related things have you been up to?

Monday, July 4, 2011

This is Why I'm a Square Foot Gardening Evangelist!

Those of you who are completely uninterested in gardening are going to have to excuse me because I have more garden photos to share. When you have had a few years of gardening disappointment, you really appreciate a flourishing garden. These (woefully smudged) photos were taken in late June. We garden in zone 5.

The corn is growing up into its support

I find pumpkins to be a fascinating plant. You can almost see it grow right before your eyes.

It didn't take long for the pumpkin to sprint up the trellis.

Baby pumpkin

Our tomato and pepper plants are getting so tall and extremely bushy. They are setting fruit like crazy. I can't wait for those first ripe tomatoes!

Peppers in the foreground, Brandywine tomato in the rear.

The potatoes want to take over the world. You can see a bit of the green beans
 in the foreground. That bug repellent really works!

The blackberries are slowly turning pink.

"Triple Crown" blackberries

Now that you have seen our garden this year, take a look at these photos I took on June 26, 2010.

Our first square foot box of beans; cucumber, canteloupe, and watermelon hills; peppers, and tomatoes.

The most pitiful stand of corn in the Midwest. Our blackberries are tiny, too.

Same climate, same gardeners, many of the same varieties of plants. I'd say square foot gardening has made a remarkable difference, wouldn't you?

How is your garden doing? Any successes or failures to report?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Where There Is No Doctor": A Review

Over the past few months I've used my prepping budget to build up our survival library. As promised, here's the first of many book reviews I'll be sharing.

Have you seen the show on the Discovery Channel called "Dual Survival"? It pairs Cody Lundin, a barefoot, New Age hippy, with Dave Canterbury, a no-nonsense army vet. The most interesting part of the show is the dynamic between two extremely different people as they work together to survive in extreme scenarios.

Hubby Dear and I are a bit like that, I guess. He's extremely no-nonsense. I'm full of nonsense, which in this analogy makes me the hippy of the relationship. Hey, I do like granola.

One of the "dual"aspects of our relationship is that Hubby Dear is a physician and I... am not. We both took a look at the Hesperian Foundation's Where There Is No Doctor and we'll give you our separate perspectives on it.

Where There is No Doctor is often recommended. But is it really worth
adding to your survival library?

The Harried Homemaker's Take:

If you're looking for a book to learn about first aid or some at-home remedies for common medical ailments, this is probably not what you're looking for. This book was written as a handbook for aid workers and/or villagers in third world countries. I'd like to hope that the USA's medical infrastructure will always be around, but if it isn't, this book would become useful.

It covers basics like hygiene and nutrition - things we all learn in grade school here in the USA. It also gives basic instructions for childbirth, treating dehydration, setting broken bones, etc. Nothing is covered in depth, but it would be a useful starting point if you are truly without access to medical care. It is written in very simple language so that anyone should be able to understand it.

In short: this book isn't a substitute for routine care by a medical professional, but it could be useful in extreme, SHTF scenarios.

Hubby Dear's Take:

This book has an excellent breadth of topics, and it goes into a good amount of detail on a number of them. It covers things as basic as first aid, to ailments of specific organs/organ systems (e.g., the eye, the skin), to delivering children. Although as a family physician I do these things on a regular basis, I always have my trusty medical supplies with me in a controlled environment. This book gives ideas on how to handle these problems with common objects and under less than ideal conditions.

The authors of this book definitely have their own viewpoints on medicine, with some of which I agree, while with others I do not. For example, they are very much against the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in our culture. As a daily combatant in the war against the overuse of these medications, I appreciated their emphasis and explanations on this subject. However, they also are very much in favor of easy access for abortions, which I very much oppose. This really did not detract from the useful information in the book, though.

One somewhat minor point that I would like the authors to correct in any future editions would be in relation to the dosing of medications for pediatric patients. In general, we use weight to dose children, not age. All of the dosing in the book is by age. I think both should be there, with weight as the default if the child's weight is available. It's just more accurate and significantly decreases the possibility of overdosing or underdosing.

Overall, this book would be very useful to have in a situation where professional medical care is not easily available, whether that be in a far away village or during a TEOTWAWKI situation.

Another dual aspect to this book is that you can buy it... or not.

The Hesperian Foundation makes this book available for free download on its website. Click here if you are interested in doing that.

We chose to buy a copy from because:
A) I don't feel comfortable keeping important survival literature only in a digital format 


B) It is easier and almost as cheap (by the time you add up printer ink and paper) to go ahead and buy the book rather than print it out on my own.

Didn't Hubby Dear do a good job with his inaugural post on the blog? Maybe if I'm really nice he'll agree to do a guest post or two.  :) Do you have any topics related to medicine that you'd be interested in seeing on the blog?