"Bludgeoning hard times with a rolling pin"

"Bludgeoning hard times with a rolling pin"

Friday, July 30, 2010

Blackberries: jovial and stand-off-ish

After planting blackberry bushes last year, we are thrilled to finally have some harvesting to do.

The berries in the photo appear to be more raspberry-ish, but I assure you they are blackberries. They are thornless and very approachable, friendly even.

As a special bonus, we also found some wild blackberries. Not wanting to take any chances, we summoned the expertise of our county extension service for confirmation. Yep, we have lots of blackberries! Happy. Happy. Happy.

This was a practical discovery, considering their zero cost; however, the wild bunch is very much NOT thornless. They are aloof and quite persnickety--but that's no deterrent when one is determined about cobbler.

As a side note, the raspberry bushes we planted last year fizzled. Apparently, it is not OK to plant raspberries and blackberries too close together.

Live and learn. And eat blackberries!

How are your gardening attempts going so far?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Using the sun to cook dinner

Solar cookers provide a way to save on your utility bill while saving energy, too.

Check out this video of a woman using a solar oven in Minnesota. The temperature was nine degrees that day. (Note: Wash hands often when dealing with raw meat)

A solar oven could cost upwards of $200, but the design is simple. If you are still financially reeling from a recent pizza delivery splurge, use the pizza box to create your own solar oven. (Note: Use eco-friendly paints and glues)

Follow this link for instructions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWbtuDnlBVw.

(Sunshine image from www.designedtoat.com)

Friday, July 23, 2010

The fresh scent of line-dried sheets. Not.

Who would have thought times would change so drastically that people would have to fight for the right to use a clothesline on their own property?

I would love to hang out my laundry, but I’m fairly certain particular covenants and restrictions prohibit such a thing where I live.

Let’s look it up.

The precise wording from our community association is as follows:
“No permanent poles for attaching wires or lines for the purpose of hanging laundry thereupon shall be erected, installed or constructed on any Lot.”

I spoke to the coordinator at the community association and he told me laundry poles were the issue, not the laundry itself. If we rigged up a retractable system, that would be fine. He also told me to check with the city to make sure they did not have an ordinance against drying laundry outside.

So, I spoke with the code enforcement representative for our city. She told me there was no ordinance she knew of against it; but that almost no one hangs their laundry outside here. She said maybe one or two people have done it within the last five years. And sometimes when residents do hang their clothes, their neighbors report them to code enforcement—even though there is no ordinance against line-drying.

She *helpfully* took my street name so there is now a record of my phone call, just in case someone complains about our laundry outside. Once again…I don’t know why it matters since there is no ordinance against it!

I doubt I’ll soon be so rebellious and radical as to hang out my laundry. Yet I hope someone will step up and be nervy enough to act within the city code and do something perfectly legal—to make hanging laundry outside acceptable once again.

Actually there is a movement afoot in favor of “right to dry” legislation--you may know about it. Check out the Action Center on Project Laundry List’s website at www.laundrylist.org. While you’re there view photos of how simply gorgeous a clothesline can be.

The benefits of hanging laundry are so many—energy conservation, sterilization by sunlight, money savings, aesthetics (clotheslines are beautiful, after all!).

Perhaps one day I'll be able to hang out the laundry without making the neighbors fussy.

What about you?

Do you love a clothesline? Or are you dryer-all-the-way?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pretzels, get your pretzels here

This recipe is economical and incredibly yummy. Bake some and see what you think.

Homemade Soft Pretzels


4 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ¼ cups warm water

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve above ingredients and let sit for about 10 minutes. The mixture should foam a little.

Into the yeast mixture, add the following:
3 ½ cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

On a floured plate or board, knead the dough. Add about one cup more flour as needed during kneading.

Lightly oil a large bowl and roll the dough in it, so that all sides of the dough are lightly covered with oil.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a greased towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Shape dough into 12 pretzel shapes or about 24 twisty sticks. It seems twisty sticks are faster to shape, easier to handle, and brown more uniformly when baking (but you do what you want).

In a saucepan, dissolve ½ cup of baking soda into 4 cups of hot water. Simmer gently.

Dunk one or two pretzels at a time into the water. Use a slotted spoon or wire basket-type spatula so some of the water drains off. (Stir water mixture often to prevent baking soda from clinging to the pretzels).

Bake pretzels on a greased baking sheet for about 8 minutes or until golden brown.

Immediately brush with melted butter.

Then, enjoy them as is…or
*dip them in a bowl of Parmesan cheese; or
*sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar mixture on top; or
*sprinkle course salt on top.

These are so soft and delicious--you’ll want to eat them all at once.

Do you love soft pretzels?

**This recipe was posted on the Two for Tuesday Recipe Blog Hop. Check it out!!**

Sunday, July 18, 2010

He couldn't possibly have a dark side

I’m aware some people have ongoing, raging combat with raccoons. But really, how can you not love that sweetie-pie face?

We spotted this guy a while back. We drove all around him, snapping photos. He waddled here and there, but never seemed extremely concerned about being followed.

I think we’ll name him...Bandit. (Like you didn’t expect that?)

Have a lovely Sunday!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pork spareribs supper with carrots and rice

Honey baked pork spareribs were a hit the other night at our house. I purchased the meat for 1.49/lb at a local grocery store (not big-box).

Here’s the recipe:

Honey Baked Pork Spareribs

2 pounds pork spareribs
garlic powder
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/8 cup soy sauce
salt and pepper

Cut spareribs into manageable serving-size pieces and place into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan. Salt and pepper the meat. Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees for an hour.

Heat honey, vinegar, soy sauce and some garlic powder in a saucepan until boiling. Discard the liquid from the sparerib pan.

Spoon the honey mixture over the spareribs. Turn the oven up to 350 degrees and bake uncovered for another 20 to 30 minutes. Baste with juices. Serve with some bbq sauce.

White rice and brown sugared carrots go well with these ribs.

Brown sugared carrots
Place one pound of baby carrots into a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with water and microwave for 15 minutes. Drain the water and melt some butter over the carrots. Add a couple tablespoons of brown sugar into buttered carrots, creating a caramel sauce.

What have you been serving at your house??

**This recipe was posted on the Two for Tuesday Recipe Blog Hop. Check it out!!**

Friday, July 16, 2010

Playing house, or um, camping

Recently, my husband and I visited one of the many awesome county parks in our area. The views were breathtaking and the walking trails exhilarating; but the cabins were most intriguing. I think every little girl or grown-up little girl will find something magical in these teeny “homes.”

As we peeked inside one of the structures, my husband probably thought something along the lines of,

“Electricity for laptop. Bring bug spray.”

This is what I thought…

“Wouldn’t a vase of daisies on the dining room table be lovely? Oh, let’s sew window curtains in a fabric of pink and green gingham and, of course, stitch bed quilts to match!

We will sit in rocking chairs on the front porch and that’s where we will knit and sing.”

“We will roll out pie crust and then bake our masterpiece over coals outside. After chasing kitty from the windowsill, we will place our pie there to cool. Fresh air will dance with delicious aroma, filling the room with a homey scent.”

“Our kitty will be calico and her name shall be Pinky. She will be adorned with a hot pink collar studded with diamonds--and she will sleep with us.”

“If any extra boys want to play, they can be the dogs. If they don’t like being dogs, then they can just go home.”

The daydream ended as we headed back to the car. Real-life kitchens, laundry and pets aren’t nearly as much fun to contemplate as the possibilities found in these cabin playhouses.

Yes, these cabins happen to be located in the woods and, no, they do not have bathrooms or running water; so using them is, technically, camping.

But, isn’t it way more fun to play house?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Super-duper granola bars

After buying boxes of ready-made granola bars containing who-knows-what ingredients plus all that packaging...I have been using this really easy recipe and making them myself instead.

This recipe is great because you can throw in bits of this and that--whatever you have on hand or whatever your family likes.

This is how we like 'em:

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 cups oats
1 cup rice cereal
1/2 cup broken pretzels (recommended!!)
some sunflower seeds, chopped nuts, raisins (or whatever you have on hand)
handful of chocolate chips

Boil over medium-high heat: 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup honey.

Then simmer on medium-low for about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and add 2 cups of oats, 1 cup of rice cereal, 1/2 cup of broken pretzels, and other fruit and nut additions.

Spread into a 9 x 13 pan.

Sprinkle some chocolate chips on top and press them into the bars. (Don't stir these into the warm mixture...unless you prefer them melted and not as chips.)

Cool and slice into bars.

What is your favorite granola bar recipe?

Tell me, tell me!!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The honey locust tree and its bad reputation

The honey locust tree’s most obvious feature is its abundance of thorns. Thorns on the branches, thorns on the trunk and thorns on the thorns. At first glance, this tree appears to be angry and ready for a fight. Its arsenal is quite apparent for anyone in doubt.

One may wonder, “What are honey locust trees good for?” Actually, quite a few things.

The pods from the honey locust tree are sweet and edible when mature (as opposed to the black locust tree’s poisonous pods). These pods may also be used to ferment for beer. Just be careful of the leaves, they are poisonous.

The honey locust’s wood is high quality and durable and is often used to create furniture.

And those huge, stabbing thorns may even be used as nails.

The honey locust is sometimes planted near black walnut trees. They love to grow together and nurture each other. And black walnuts, once cracked open, are yummy.

So, the honey locust isn’t all bad. It just has a bad reputation.

Some nurseries sell thornless, podless varieties for shade and ornamental uses. But where’s the adventure in that?

The native honey locust has many offerings for those brave enough to get to know it. Just remember to wear a suit of armor and most of all, do not taunt the honey locust tree.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Peek-a-boo in the rain


This video was taken during a recent thunderstorm. Do you see what I see?

I was nervous for this sweet little guy but knew if I attempted a rescue mission, he would hop away. So I kept watch at the window.

He didn’t seem terribly concerned about weather conditions as he was nestled safely during the entire storm.

I was relieved for him when the wet and windy excitement concluded. Afterward, he nibbled nonchalantly on grass.

What a brave little bunny!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Red sauce from the garden

For some time I have wondered if it would be cost-effective to make homemade red sauce with fresh ingredients from the garden or farmer’s market.

Would I need bushels of tomatoes for just one pasta dinner? I didn’t know.

I decided to wing it and find out what happens.

Some recipes instruct starting the recipe three hours before mealtime. Most days, that’s not going to happen around here. I only simmered this batch for about a half hour.

You may call this marinara, pasta sauce or dipping sauce. I guess it depends on what you eat with it.

Easy and speedy fresh-from-the-garden red sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ onion, chopped fine
¼ green pepper, chopped fine
½ celery rib, chopped fine
2 tomatoes, diced
2 teaspoons of Italian spices
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

In a saucepan, sauté the onion, green pepper and celery in some olive oil sprinkled with garlic powder.
Add the diced tomatoes (with peels, juice and seeds—what’s wrong with being lazy?)
Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer, stirring often, for a half hour or until you are ready to eat.
The result is salsa-like in consistency. I made it a bit smoother by breaking up and mashing the mixture with the edge of a spatula during simmer time.

This recipe makes enough for two small servings of pasta or enough pizza sauce for one pizza.

Double or triple as needed.

Do you have a recipe for red sauce using fresh tomatoes? Please share!

**This recipe was posted on the Two for Tuesday Recipe Blog Hop. Check it out!!**

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Friday, July 9, 2010

Is suburban forest gardening possible?

I recently learned about a section of permaculture called forest gardening. For those concerned about any aspect of a “peaking” society (peak climate, peak oil, peak population, peak water) or for anyone who may want to live closer to nature or merely save money, forest gardening sounds exciting to explore.

This method throws farming and traditional gardening for a loop. There is no tilling of soil. There is almost no maintenance required, making it appealing to an aging population, folks with disabilities or just the chronically lazy.

Why do forests thrive unattended by human effort? Because they want to grow there. It’s their natural inclination. Forest gardening takes this natural setting and introduces edibles—but only the ones wishing to grow in a particular region.

Layers make the most of a small plot. Neighboring together could be: vines, ground-level edibles such as strawberries; root vegetables; typical garden residents like lettuces and herbs; shrub-size berries; and dwarf fruit trees. This whole environment would be protected under a canopy of large fruit and nut trees.

Weeds are minimal and fallen tree leaves provide rich mulch. Plants attracting beneficial bugs (to dine on bad bugs) could be added. In a small space, a whole ecosystem thrives.
After years of chemical farming requiring expensive machinery, working with nature sounds almost too simple.

Though much information I found about forest gardening is from England and the notion of permaculture hails from Australia, residents in Colorado and Massachusetts are succeeding at forest gardening. One source I read claimed ten people could be fed from one acre. Encouraging.

Perhaps suburbanites can practice sustainability after all.

Would you attempt a forest garden?