Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Garden Update: May 25th - Spring Garden Lessons

Our garden is in transition from the "spring garden" to the "summer garden". We've been harvesting snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, shelling peas (blanched and into the freezer for now), lettuce, carrots and green onions. I need to harvest beets and more carrots this week. My wonderful husband added one more section to the raised bed this weekend, which I planted today.The tomatoes and peppers are growing, but showing signs of some aphids.

Here are some things we've learned about what we've planted:

1. Plant more carrots, green onions, and spinach. These grow a lot in a small space, and we use all of them!
2. If more room, plant more cauliflower and broccoli.
3. Plant less lettuce. Even as much as we use, I need to stagger the planting, so the harvestable lettuce isn't coming all at once.
4. Plant more flowers. I have some marigolds and nasturtiums planted, but I should have put them in much, much earlier. We need to attract good bugs to our garden!

In the new bed section, I planted potatoes. We picked the seed potatoes up from this nice organic gardening center in a nearby town. I did NOT write down the two varieties that we got, oops! I have no idea how they will turn out, so stay tuned :)

My quandry right now is -- what to do with the plants that are "done"? For example, while the broccoli plants are still producing side shoots, the cauliflower is done. I'm leaving the plants there for now, as they improve the environment for the other plants still growing in the bed. I'm waiting for the brussel sprouts to finish, then that first bed can be replanted. I'm thinking I will put a trellis with the acorn squash there. I know it's a little late, but I'd love to give it a shot! I will be sure to plant some more marigolds and nasturtiums also.

I hope you're enjoying your garden as much as I'm enjoying mine!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday May 24th Meal Planning

Good morning everyone,

We had a quiet weekend, after the bustle of getting my older son off on his trip. He'll be back tomorrow - we'll be missing him until then!

This past week, I was experimenting with some fava beans I had from the farm. I had a few different recipes, but I ended up making soup in the fashion of split pea, with carrots, onions, celery, along with some sliced kielbasa. Not exactly Mediterranean, but tasty and everyone liked it!

We're into the "home stretch" now - the last three weeks of school. Things will be crazy busy, so I'm thinking ahead to those menus as well. For this week, I still have time for experimentation!

Monday: Asian Noodle soup with Bok Choy

Tuesday: Italian Ribs and Rice

Wednesday: Easy Broccoli Quiche (I made two last week so I've got one in the freezer)

Thursday: White Turkey Chili (I'll be experimenting with a combination of ideas from recipes I've used in the past, testing some substitutions for convenience items. We'll see how it turns out!)

Friday: Homemade Pizza Night

Saturday: Grill Night! Steak, potatoes, salad.

Sunday: Leftovers

What are you making this week?  If you're looking for more ideas, check out orgjunkie.com's Menu Plan Monday!

Have a great week!

Friday, May 21, 2010

One final Friday Freebie - Free PacMan

Google is celebrating the 30th anniversary of PacMan by making a free game available. Just go to http://www.google.com/ and click "Insert Coin".

Friday Freebies - Free Ice Cream and Movie Screenings sites

Hi everyone,

A couple freebies for you today!

Free ice cream sundae at participating Walmart stores on Saturday, May 22nd from 11am to 4pm.

Movie Screenings -  Here are a few sites where you can look for free movie screenings in your area. If you're interested in movies, check these out:

Now I'm off to work on getting my older son ready to go to Disneyland. His school bands will be performing there this weekend. I'm so proud of him! I know he will have a great time.

Hope y'all have a great weekend!

Recipe: Homemade Pizza

Making pizza isn't really a recipe, it's a creation! I admit we were intimidated at first, but there's no reason to be! I encourage you to try this in a way that you're comfortable -- and I promise you'll be pleased with the results. Use the freshest ingredients and you are on your way! Here's how we build our pizzas. Make it fit your family and tastes!

Part 1. - The crust. We like a wheat crust, so I use this recipe. If it comes out too "wet", knead in some flour and let it rest a few minutes before rolling out. If you prefer a white flour crust, try this one by Rachel at http://www.titus2homemaker.com. It looks tasty, though I haven't tried it yet!

If you have a pizza pan or stone, roll the crust to fit. I don't have either, so I use jelly roll pans. I split my dough in half and roll each to fit the pans. I spray the pans with nonstick spray then dust with corn meal before putting dough in the pans.

Want to buy your dough? Trader Joe's makes great white and wheat pizza dough, for a great price. I stay away from the big name brands in your grocery store - they are very expensive!

Part 2. Sauce. We make our own because it is SOOO easy. Look here for my recipe. Spread on your dough as thick as you like it. I prefer less sauce, though my kids like a little more "saucy". Want something different? How about using barbecue sauce, pesto, or alfredo sauce? It's a great way to use up some sauce you have left over from another meal. If you've got a sauce that's a bit too thin, cook it on simmer/low heat while you're preparing your dough.

Part 3. Cheese. We put cheese on next -- usually one cup of shredded mozzarella. Adjust for your own tastes (different amounts and vary the cheese, including combinations).

Part 4. Now comes the fun part -- the TOPPINGS! Here are some of our favorites:
  1. Pepperoni (with our without mushrooms). We buy our pepperoni in bulk at Smart and Final, but you can buy just enough for one pizza for a pretty good price at the grocery store. Use this with regular pizza sauce.
  2. Ham, pineapple, and red onions. This is great with barbecue sauce! A great way to use up ham leftovers. If you use canned pineapple, give it time to drain well.
  3. Chicken, mushrooms, and red onions. I rarely cook chicken just for pizza, instead using leftovers that I've saved. Use this combination with different sauces for different tastes!
  4. Spinach or chard (2 cups chopped leaves), red onion slices, and feta cheese (about half a cup of feta, this goes on last). I like this with regular pizza sauce, but would be yummy with no sauce too. My whole family loves this one -- who knew?
Part 5. Bake. I recommend a 425 F preheated oven. The baking time will depend on your crust and toppings. Thin crust and just cheese? It should only take 10 minutes. Thicker crust and lots of toppings? Bake it for about 15 minutes. Ours usually bake about 12 minutes, as we have a medium/thin crust and a good amount of toppings. Having an oven with a big window helps me keep an eye on them.

Pizza is fun food - don't be afraid to be creative! I like experimenting and it's fun putting together something different. We always have one "tried and true" pizza and a second where I'm trying something new. Truthfully, it's hard to go wrong, so go ahead and give it a try!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Homemade Pizza is a Winner!

15 months after being laid off, my husband has recently been getting a little work as a contractor. This means he's working for a company without benefits. It's unpredictable and a lot less money than he made in a salary, but it's work (and therefore money!) nonetheless. Upon receiving a "paycheck" last week, we decided to "celebrate" by forgoing our normal homemade pizza night and opt for the "luxury" of a $10 Costco pizza.

We opted for a combo pizza from Costco. We wouldn't normally make our own with those toppings, so it seemed a good choice. It looked beautiful, perfectly round with equal sized slices, and smelled great! My family sat down, ready to enjoy this almost-frugal meal. After the food was blessed, we dug in with great relish. We were surprised at what greeted us -- a rubbery crust, greasy cheese, and overall, a flat-tasting pizza. It didn't taste bad, but it certainly didn't compare at all to our homemade pizzas.

I guess we're spoiled, both taste-wise and money-wise. We could have made pizza that tasted 100% better, for 50% of the cost, and for not a lot more time invested than was spent buying that pizza. I'm somewhat curious how our pizza would stack up against more expensive pizza  restaurants, like Round Table or California Pizza Kitchen. Our budget won't be including these for a while, but for now I'm confident that taste-wise, our pizza would stand up well in such company. Of course, there's no comparison in cost, we'd win hands down!

All I know is that I'm looking forward to our own pizza this Friday night! This works for our family - maybe it would work for you too!

Edit: I've added our current pizza recipe here! Enjoy!

Looking for more tips on what WORKS? Check out wearethatfamily.com's Works for me Wednesday.

Tuesday Garden Update - Basil, Peas, and Cauliflower, Oh My!

It's the last few weeks of school, and things have gotten simply crazy. I'm trying to finish up so many projects and "things to do", in addition to supporting the boys' projects, trips, presentations, concerts... I know there are things I haven't even thought of yet! Meanwhile, the garden is moving steadily along. It's great just to go out there and enjoy a calm moment, checking the progress of our veggies. So, here's a quick photo tour of "what's up", before it's not Tuesday anymore :)

One of the most exciting things this week is the cauliflower. It should be ready to pick soon -- I love peering down to see how beautiful it looks!

Next up is the basil. Not harvestable yet, but growing well! I keep dreaming of pesto, but I'll have to wait a while.

Last picture for today is the shelling peas. There are a ton of pods on the plants now -- I am planning ahead for some dishes using these, which should be soon!

Have you started a garden? Here's hoping it's growing well!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday May 17th Meal Planning

We have so many veggies right now! Between our last CSA farm basket and our own garden, my refrigerator is overflowing! This week, I'm concentrating on making sure none of this goes to waste! We'll have a couple vegetarian meals, and others where the veggies are the "star", NOT the meat. Since my freezer is getting a little low, it's a "win" all around! Here's my plan for the week:

Monday: Butternut squash risotto, based on Ina Garten's recipe, plus green salad with greens from our garden.

Tuesday: Fava Bean Stew, loosely based on this recipe. I'll let you know how my changes work out :)

Wednesday: Broccoli quiche, made ahead on Tuesday.

Thursday: Chicken stir fry with carrots and snow peas from the garden.

Friday: Homemade pizza night

Saturday: Make Your Own Burrito night - "refried" beans, rice, lettuce from the garden, tomatoes, cheese, salsa

Sunday: Chili Baked potatoes with green salad

What's your menu plan for the week? If you are looking for more ideas, check out orgjunkie.com's Menu Plan Monday!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Freebies for May 14th

Hi all, Happy Friday to you! This week we enjoyed a wonderful freebie - my older son and I went to a local high school to listen to their Spring pops concert. Even though we couldn't stay for the whole concert, it was a wonderful hour of music! This is the school my older son will be attending in the fall, so he was very interested to hear the kind of music they were playing. On to some freebies for you!

FREE Vegetable Garden Guide from Burpee. 
If there's any rule of vegetable gardening (and there isn't, so relax), it's that it's more fun to grow things you and your family enjoy eating. So, to help you on your vegetable-growing journey, Burpee Home Gardens presents "Garden Fresh" – an insightful yet fun vegetable gardening guide that answers your questions on everything from what to grow, to how much and when. This companion offers ideas, inspirations, and the support you need to explore – and succeed at – the world of home vegetable gardening.
Borders' Summer Reading Program has begun! For kids 12 and under. Read 10 books, get one free!

Free Online Music Lessons from Folk of the Woods, including Mandolin, bouzouki, Mandola, Banjo, Tenor Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Dulcimer, Fiddle, and Violin lessons!

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Weekend Waffles

One of the ways we avoid spending a lot of money on boxed cereals or other pre-prepared breakfast foods is by making waffles on the weekend. Nothing like some wonderful hot waffles topped with fresh fruit to get your day going! So one weekend morning, I make a double batch of our favorite multigrain waffles. I modify this recipe slightly by substituting corn meal for the wheat germ. My family eats them as they come out of the waffle iron when they are at their best. Here' a picture of my younger son's plate, including strawberries from our yard! Can you tell he loves strawberries?

Here's the stack at the end of cooking. Plenty for the week! I'm not too concerned about keeping them all warm and crisp, since they'll go into the freezer for toasting later, so keeping them stacked like this is ok. If you're planning on eating them, keep them single layer in a warm oven to keep them nice and crisp.

When  all the waffles have cooled, I'm ready to package them up for the week. Normally, anything going into our freezer gets a label AND a date. These get no date - they'll be gone by the end of the week!

Now we're ready for the week!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday Garden Update - Harvesting and New Plants

In the past week, we've been harvesting quite a bit from our little garden! Here's a rough estimate of what our garden has given us in the past week:
  • 1/4lb snow peas
  • about a quart of broccoli crowns
  • quart of strawberries ( I can't believe how many we are getting out of our tiny "bathtub" strawberry patch!)
  • lettuce - every few days, we're picking enough for salads for four
 Also in the past week, our pumpkins, delicata squash and zucchini plants have emerged!

In addition, we've got more chard and spinach seedlings. Our tomato plants are doing well (I just started tying them to their stakes. Also, I'm continuing to pinch flowers off for now).The peppers are growing slowly.

My homemade slug trap hasn't caught anything yet. We're handpicking the slugs when we find them. They seem to prefer the lettuce to the beer!

I still haven't figured out the identity of my mystery flower plants for certain. When I originally planted them, I thought the seeds were nasturtiums (they truly looked almost identical, granted they were a couple years old!), but clearly they are something different. It's kind of fun having a mystery plant in the garden. (Actually, as of Monday morning, I think I've figured out what they are!)

It's really wonderful hanging out in the garden, witnessing the "magic" of it all. It changes every day -- there's always a new wonder. I especially enjoy incorporating our home grown produce into my menu plans. If we had more space we could do much more, but even in this time space, we've accomplished a lot. If you're interested in learning about square foot gardening, check out this site. You'll be amazed at what you can do in just a little space!

Monday, May 10, 2010

May 10th Monday Meal Planning

Hi everyone,

Happy Monday! I had a wonderful Mother's Day weekend. I made a chocolate cake to bring to my Mother in law along with a BIG bowl of sliced strawberries from our garden. It was a nice day despite the bit of rain we had in the morning (which the garden loved!) For dinner, my husband grilled some chicken, and the boys made baked potatoes and salad, with lettuce picked from the garden. I taught my younger son how to pick the older leaves and leave the rest of the lettuce plants. He's now an experience lettuce picker! :) Sorry, no pictures to share, but it was enjoyed by all!

This week I'll be continuing to incorporate more of our garden produce into our meals. This week I'll have lettuce, snow peas, and broccoli for our meals. Here's what I'm planning for our dinners this week!

Monday: Chicken lo mein with broccoli, snow peas, and carrots

Tuesday: Pasta with rapini and cannellini beans

Wednesday: Bean, cheese, and rice burritos. I'll be making a big batch of refried beans in the crockpot - some for this dinner, some for another dinner.

Thursday: Sausage and Rice casserole, salad

Friday: Homemade pizza night - one with ham/pineapple/onions, the other undecided at the moment, we'll see what we get in our farm share this week.

Saturday: Black beans, greens (whatever we get from the farm), and mushroom enchiladas

Sunday: Leftover night

What's your plan for this week? Need some ideas? Check out orgjunkie.com's Menu Plan Monday meal planning roundup!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Today is National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day - Are You Ready?

According to FEMA's Citizen Corps, today is National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day. More than half of American households includes pets. It's important that we be prepared to safely help ourselves as well as our pets survive in a disaster. These preparations are similar to the preparations you would make for the rest of your family, including:
  1. Make an emergency kit for your pet. It should include at least three days of food and water for your pet, as well as materials for sanitation (ie. kitty litter, cleaning materials, or other pet needs)
  2. A first aid kit, including anything you would specifically need for your pet.
  3. ID for your pet - get both a collar tag and a microchip, if applicable.
  4. A carrier for your pet, if applicable.
  5. An evacuation/emergency plan - what will you do with your pet if you need to evacuate? Who will care for your pet if you can't make it home?
  6. Know the location of the closest pet emergency room. Include this information in your emergency kit.
Here's some more detailed information that may help you prepare:

  1. May 3, 2:00 PM EDT: The Community's Role in Preparing and Planning for Animals

  2. May 3, 3:00 PM EDT: Tools and Resources from USDA Animal and Health Inspection Service (APHIS)

  • The Department of Homeland Security offers this downloadable pamphlet for preparing your pets for emergencies.

We're doing fairly well on that list, though there is always room for improvement! Our dog is definitely part of the family, so we plan for her, too!

Source: http://www.citizencorps.gov/news/webcasts/animalpreparedness.shtm

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day Weekend Freebies

The week has come to an end, and I'm really looking forward to my husband and younger son to come home - we miss them! Heading into the weekend, there are quite a few deals for Moms. Here's a sampling:
Happy Mother's Day to all you wonderful Moms out there! Have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Free 8x10 Collage Print at Walgreen's until Saturday

Until Saturday, May 8th, you can get a free 8x10 collage print at Walgreen's. Enter the code GOODTHOUGHTS at checkout. This would make a great Mother's Day gift! Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

In Search of... a pizza dough recipe that works

Friday night pizza night is a tradition in our house. Sure, we used to spend a LOT of money doing this, but not anymore! Making our own pizza at home is inexpensive and we get to experiment and enjoy LOTS of really good toppings. I make my own pizza sauce, buy the cheese in bulk from Costco, and make the dough. And there's the snag!

After trying about six different pizza dough recipes, we settled on one we really like. It's part whole wheat and part white flours - a great combination. The recipe is here. The problem is, it doesn't always turn out very well. About half the time, it turns out really sticky. Now, if we lived somewhere where humidity might be a factor, I could understand. But I'm in California, and that just isn't an issue most of the time. So what could it be?

I make sure the liquid is measured correctly. I watch the beginning of the dough making in the break maker, to see that it's not too wet then -- and everything looks ok. When the dough is complete, well, that's another story.

I finally decided to try a different recipe this past weekend, but it was too bread-like. We prefer a thin crust. I don't want to look for another recipe, I just want this one to work all the time. In fact, once the dough is rolled out an topped, it bakes and tastes just fine - great, even! It's just a bear to work with when it's really sticky. So, I'll be looking for any ideas that might make a difference in our pizza making! Thanks for any help you can offer!

Looking for more ideas or questions about what works for you and your family? Check out Works for Me Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday Garden Update - Snow peas!

Things are happening faster now that the weather is getting warmer! In the past week, I harvested the remainder of the spinach and chard I planted in February to make room for the last four tomato plants I needed to put in. I've planted more in another section of the garden -- it seems we can't have enough greens! The lettuce has been picked selectively as needed for salads and sandwiches. I'm not sure how long we can keep the lettuce going, so we'll continue to pick the larger leaves for now. Here are a few shots of what's happening in the garden today!

We had a pair of visitors most of last week. They were busy little builders, and seemed to find lots of what they needed around the garden!

We have snow peas!

The broccoli is growing....

The tomatoes think it's time to flower. I am going to pinch them off -- they need to grow more first!

The tallest shelling peas plant reached the top of the trellis, and has started flowering. The others are catching up!

Since we're still planning on building more beds, we don't have an automatic watering system set up yet. So, I'm off to water. Have a great day!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Meal Planning - Class Trip Week

This week, my younger son is going on a class trip; and my husband is going as well. They leave Tuesday and come back Friday. I'm planning some "reinvented" meals to use up leftovers. We'll still have our normal Pizza Night on Friday to welcome them home! Here's my menu for the week:

Monday: Marinated london broil cooked on the grill, sugar snap peas, and baked potatoes.

Tuesday: Whole wheat spaghetti with home made turkey meatballs and pasta sauce left over from weekend camping.

Wednesday: Beef stroganoff using leftover beef from Monday night.

Thursday: I'll use the spaghetti left over from Tuesday to make a casserole.

Friday: Homemade pizza night! We'll be having one with ham and pineapple, and another with chard, red onions, and feta cheese.

Saturday:Turkey and two bean Chili with corn bread. I stretch the meat in my chili recipe by using two kinds of beans. Make sure not to skimp on the spices if you're using ground turkey!

Sunday:  Leftovers

Looking for some more ideas about what to have for dinner this week? Check out orgjunkie.com's Menu Plan Monday!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Free Photo Mother's Day Card

Here's a nice deal from Kodakgallery.com. Shipping is $0.99.

Free Mother's Day Card
Choose from beautiful 5x7 Folded Greeting Card designs and add a favorite photo of you and your Mom. Order by 5/2 with Standard Shipping, or by 5/6 with 1-Day Dhipping, to receive your card by Mother's Day.

Coupon code: 4MOM  Limit 1 per customer.
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