Friday, January 20, 2023

Friday Food: Triple Cheeseburgers


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, rice, pan-fried sweet potatoes, raw and cooked green beans

Long version: Some of the green beans went in the pan with the burgers, because the adults in our house prefer them cooked. The children like them raw. To each his own.


Short version: Second verse, same as the first

Long version: I had more ground beef that I made into more hamburgers, mostly because one child had been announcing all afternoon that he couldn't wait to have some "juicy, fatty meat" for dinner. Okay, then. Must be a growth spurt.

There was leftover rice. I even made more sweet potatoes. The only difference was that the raw vegetable this time for the children was broccoli. I told them all how when they were toddlers, we used to play a game with broccoli where it was a tree in summer when they started eating, and then became a tree in the fall as they ate off the "leaves," and then progressed to a winter tree when only the trunk remained, finally becoming firewood and getting burned when they had eaten it all.

This inspired them to eat a lot more broccoli than they would have otherwise, so I guess it's not just a game for toddlers.

Random photo break!

Sun hats are a good idea here even in January.


Short version: Italian cube steaks, spaghetti, green salad with ranch dressing, chocolate chip cookies

Long version: "Italian" just means I cooked the cube steaks in a tomato sauce, which also had onion, garlic, and bell peppers in it. I used the sauce from cooking the meat for the spaghetti, too.

Yeah, that's about that.


Short version: Split pea soup, ploughman's lunch

Long version: I had made the split pea soup the day before with a bag of the yellow split peas that are a frequent excess commodities item, the ham bone from our Christmas Eve ham, and two quarts of stock from the chickens. Tasty.

I had planned to serve bread and butter and cheese with it, and while the children were in the kitchen with me, I was telling them about a ploughman's lunch. I was slightly off in my description, I guess, because I said it was bread, cheese, pickles, and beer. I didn't get the onion in there. 

In any case, the children thought bread, cheese, and pickles sounded great, so I added some dilly beans to their plates of bread and cheese, and everyone was happy.

A. was the only one who had a beer, though.


Short version: Beef stir-fry, rice, rinsed salad

Long version: I took out a package of fajita meat from our new beef processor, and I noticed while I was cutting it into smaller pieces for the stir-fry that it smelled like onion or garlic. I guess they must have put some kind of seasoning on it. 

There were no obvious spices on it, and it tasted good in the stir-fry anyway. Which also included onion, garlic, bell peppers and onions from my Misfits Market box that needed to be used up, and a bag of carrots the school cook gave me because they were likewise elderly and needed to be used quickly.

Those carrots don't look a bit their age.

The rinsed salad was mine. I wasn't sure there would be enough stir-fry, so I made myself a salad. It had bacon and walnuts and cheese and sweet potato and beets. I added the last of the jar of ranch dressing that was in the refrigerator, then licked the spatula I had used to scrape out the dressing jar. Which is when I tasted mold.


I looked at my salad with moldy dressing on it, considered the awful option of throwing all of it away . . . and instead dumped it all into a sieve and rinsed off all the dressing.

The end result was slightly watery, but still tasty. And not moldy.


Short version: Sausage 'n stuff

Long version: What a random collection of foods. The sausage was actually from Texas. I absolutely bought about a dozen packages of sausage at the grocery store there and brought it home in a cooler. Because we can't get good sausage here, and it's just such a handy thing to have on days I don't want to cook.

Like work days. Which this was.

So we had both smoked beef sausage and smoked boudin. Then there was some leftover rice, and a can of corn I heated up with butter.

And THEN, the school cook had sent me home with two grilled cheese sandwiches, green beans, and cherry cobbler. She thought our chickens would eat the first two things, but one child really wanted one of the sandwiches instead of rice with his sausage, so he had that. And A. and I ate some of the green beans instead of the corn. 

Oh! I also microwaved a sweet potato, and Poppy and I had that.

So random. But everyone was happy.


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, roasted potato cubes, carrot sticks with ranch dressing, oatmeal-raisin cookies

Long version: Is three nights of burgers in one week too much? I guess not, because no one complained.

I made the oatmeal cookies for the cookie jar this week, and this time I actually looked for a high-altitude-specific recipe. I have had trouble with oatmeal cookies flattening in the oven before here on our high plateau. I used this recipe, which needed more cinnamon and waaaay less baking soda.

It's particularly annoying because I always halve the amount of leavening when I'm baking because of the altitude here, but I went ahead and followed the recipe this time. It's supposed to have been developed for high altitudes. In which case, it should have had half the amount of baking soda that is in a cookie made at a typical altitude, instead of twice the amount.

I should have checked other recipes beforehand, I guess. 

So now I have several dozen cookies that taste like baking soda. Yuck. Luckily, my kids don't seem to notice. And I have learned my lesson. No more trusting random Internet recipes without some verification.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Growing Food: Starting Seeds

My gardening year starts now, when I start seeds for cabbage and kohlrabi seeds indoors. Our last frost date isn't until late May, but our strong sun means that the soil will be warm enough to plant out things in early spring that can handle a light frost. That includes all of the brassicas, so I plant out the cabbages and kohlrabi on March 17.

Yes, I plant my cabbages outside on St. Patrick's Day. It amuses me how appropriate that is.


So, let's start with where I get seeds.

I have purchased seeds from many different companies over the years. Some have been known for their heirloom varieties. Some have been known for seeds adapted to my particular environment. At the moment, I pretty much just go for cheap seeds in larger amounts. And the best bet for those is either Burgess or Seeds 'n' Such.

These are not fancy seed companies. They have very minimal catalogs, and probably not as many options for varieties as, say, Baker Creek Seeds. But! They have a lot of seeds for very little money. So even if not every seed sprouts, you can still plant a lot and come out ahead.

Just as an example, I looked up the price of Amish Paste Tomato seeds (an heirloom variety) at both Burgess and Baker Creek. At Burgess, you can get a package of 50 seeds for $1.29. At Baker Creek, a pack of only 15 seeds is $3.00.

Sooo, less than half the seeds for more than double the price? I think the choice here is clear. 

Almost all seeds are viable for at least two years, many for three or four. So if you can get more at once and use them for several years, that's a much better option. Shipping tends to be relatively high with the seed sellers, so one order is better than multiple orders.

That said, even "expensive" seeds are pretty cheap, so it's not really a deal breaker if you're only getting a few things.

My kohlrabi seeds came from Bakers Creek because we stopped at their actual farm and seed shop in Missouri on our way to Blackrock a few years ago. The cabbage seeds are from Burgess.

Okay! Now that we have the seeds, they must be planted! 

In what?

I buy potting soil at whatever store we happen to be near when I need it. The bag I have now says it's "40 quarts by volume," and I've used it for three years. The reason it lasts so long is because I use shallow containers to start my seeds. 

Some people like to make their own potting mixes, but I don't want to bother with all the ingredients, so I just buy it. Mix that stuff up with some water in a bucket until it's damp but not dripping and put it into . . . what?

Here is where you can go to a nursery or online and buy pots or cells or trays or . . . I don't even know. So much stuff. 

I mean, check out this page of seed starting supplies. It's nuts.

I started my cabbage seeds in an old strawberry box. I like these because they already have holes in the bottom for drainage, and a top to close while the seeds are germinating. The top holds in moisture so the soil  doesn't need to be watered before the seeds sprout. 

I planted my kohlrabi seeds in a big container that had mushrooms in it. I had to cut holes in the bottom of that one with a knife.

I don't grow any of my seedlings big enough that they need deep containers. I find that they actually transplant just as well if they're smaller, and will actually establish a little better in the ground when they're not as big. Really big transplants--like the ones I used to buy at nurseries sometimes--are so big that they kind of go into shock when they're transplanted and take awhile to recover themselves.

I used to use small yogurt cups (with holes poked in the bottom) from the recycling bins at the dump for individual plants. Those big clamshells that mixed greens and things come in are really good, too.

Basically, you're looking for something plastic that can hold water, but be perforated on the bottom. I've tried those biodegradeable pots that are supposed to be planted right in the ground with the plant, but I found they get all soggy and moldy and fall apart before I plant out my transplants. So I prefer to just dig the transplants out of something plastic when it's time to transplant.

Because the actual containers the plants are in need to have holes in the bottom for drainage, the containers need to be in something else to contain the inevitable water leaks. I use some of those big "disposable" roasting pans. 

So this is what my set-up looks like.

I store my seeds in a plastic tub with a clip-on top that used to hold magnetic robots. Not pretty, but functional.

When I start pepper or tomato seeds, I do like to give them some extra heat, or they won't sprout in our chilly house. You can buy heating mats for seed starting. I just use our heating pad--the kind you use for your sore back after you've been digging garden beds--on low, wrapped in an old t-shirt. I'm sure the manufacturer has a warning against using the pad around any kind of water, but I don't actually water the seeds before they sprout because they're in damp soil in one of those covered plastic containters, so I don't worry about it too much.

You will perhaps see that I use what I have. I encourage you to do the same. I feel about gardening the same way I do about cooking: Once you learn the principles involved, you should absolutely be able to adjust your materials to accomodate your personal situation.

Now that we have our seeds nestled snugly in their soil-filled containers, we just have to wait for them to sprout. Of course, they don't need any special light while they're still under the soil. So while we're waiting for the first tiny bits of green to emerge from the soil (so exciting!), we have time to figure out the light situation for when they do sprout. 

And that will be the next topic. See you next week for that.

P.S. If any of you are gardeners, please jump in with your own preferences and experiences in the comments. There are as many ways to grow things as there are gardens, and all gardeners love to talk to other gardeners about their gardens. So talk to me! (And everyone else.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Growing Food: An Introduction

Although my dad had small gardens in a couple of our houses when I was a kid, I didn't start gardening myself until we moved to Blackrock and I had a GIANT established vegetable garden at my feet. I learned a lot from the MiL, and made a lot of my own mistakes.

Then we moved. And we have had a garden in the three houses we've lived in since: on the Canadian border, in a narrow strip in front of our house in a tiny northern New Mexico village, and here, where we started with bare dirt that seemed devoid of life

All those years and all those houses have had gardens, and I have grown food. It's what I do.

Also what I do is take an excessive number of photos of things I grew (and then ate).

People have asked me quite a few times over these fifteen or so years how I garden. Although I've written a lot about my gardens, I've never written about my actual process much. I decided to do it this year, though, because it really drives me crazy that most of the things written about gardening seem to imply that it takes a lot of start-up money for products.

It doesn't have to. I've never had a fancy set-up for seed starting, but I always start seeds. I've never tested my soil, but my plants grow. I don't have a drip system for watering, tomato cages, or even a trowel I can find reliably (thanks, kids). 

Maybe I would have bigger harvests if I had those things, but even without them, I still grow food.

I'm not an expert gardener, but I have found that seeds really want to grow. Really! It's their destiny! All you need to provide for them is a good-enough environment. It doesn't even need to be perfect. Plants have a great survival drive, and will grow and produce food even in non-optimal conditions. Maybe not as much food, but always some.

Tomatoes grown without benefit of soil blocks, garden grow lights, purchased amendments, or a pH tester.

I'm not the sort of person who enjoys keeping data and being precise about things. So I don't do that. I have found over the years the way that works for me, and that is the minimal input needed to produce at least some output. Sort of lazy gardening, I suppose, although that's actually an oxymoron. Growing things is hard work, even with shortcuts.

I suppose my gardening philosophy can be summed up thusly: Grow food with the least amount of expense and effort possible.

With that in mind, tune in tomorrow for the beginning of our garden year: Seeds!

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Snapshots: Vacuums and Church Stuff

I bought myself a new vacuum for Christmas. I actually bought it online the day after Christmas when the cheap one I bought only a year ago started actually blowing dirt when I turned it on.

Definitely not what I want my vacuum to be doing.

The new one is quite a bit heavier, and has an actual bag. It remains to be seen if it lasts a reasonable length of time, but it works now.

New vacuum on the right, awful old one on the left.

Hooray for a vacuum that sucks the dirt up, rather than blowing it around my house.

January is one of my mayordomo months, so I'm back to being Church Lady for awhile.

Cleaning . . .

And dressing The Infant of Prague.

That statue has little robes in all the different liturgical colors (the green is for Ordinary Time) that I assume were made for it by previous Church Ladies. Changing out the robe is one of my favorite things to do. It's like dressing a doll.

While I'm being Church Lady, the kids like to light candles and say prayers for deceased friends and relatives.

Man, those are some skinny kids. 

And last, the only child I have who actually asks for worksheets to do at home.

Here she's practicing writing the letter "y."

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.