Monday, August 30, 2010

Into the Depths of My Freezer

What a mess. I hate cleaning out my freezer. Not only is it time consuming, but also kind of depressing. I hate throwing away food, but sometimes that food gets lost in the recesses of it, only to be found frostbitten and tasting like the freezer.  I practically give myself a lecture while I clean it out, telling myself that I need to keep it organized and that I need to keep better track of what's in there so I don't keep buying things I already have. 

But how does one go about doing that? How do you keep better track of what's in there? Space is limited in that narrow freezer (someday, I'd like one of those deep freezers so I can freeze jam, homegrown produce and herbs, and an extra turkey when they're super-cheap around the holidays), so everything isn't always visible. Some things, out of necessity, have to be tucked in the back, three shelves down.  It's as the saying goes: out of sight, out of mind. And that, I'm sorry to say, often leads to waste. 

Then I read a great tip in the September issue of Family Fun magazine. One reader says that she uses a dry-erase pen and writes her freezer's inventory on the flat, white places, like the front of the ice box.  The answer I needed! A great way to keep track of things in a simple way. 

So, when I cleaned out my freezer on Saturday, I had a little notepad and pencil next to me and I wrote down all the frozen meat/poultry/fish I had since those are the items that I seem to overlook.  Being former vegetarians, we still don't eat a lot of meat at our house, so I forget about the meat we have in the freezer. I'm sharing this, fully aware that I may come across as somewhat spacey or absent-minded.  But it's been a crazy summer for us, so I'll take solace in that.

Anyway, I was amazed at what I had in the freezer!  There were extra packages of bacon, extra hamburger patties from a family barbecue I that I forgot about, wild salmon fillets (I'd found an awesome deal on it a few weeks ago, bought some, stuck it in the freezer, and forgot), and three packages of ground chicken.  I think I kept buying the ground chicken, intending to use it in a particular recipe, but then plans would change. I'd forget that I had it and I'd buy more.  Duh. 

Here's the after picture (like I'd post a before one. Yikes!):

{The lighting's kind of weird in the picture, I admit. The light burned out ages ago. Never bothered to replace it.}

I got a dry-erase marker and wrote down the items that are hidden out of sight -- mostly meat, poultry, and fish.  I also included my frozen homemade frosting -- whenever I make too much, I freeze it like my mom does. Then, like with other things, I forget about it and make a new batch of frosting. Oh yeah, I think this new, easy inventory system is going to work very well for me.

So take inventory of your freezer. You never know what you may find. Hopefully, it will be something edible.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lovely Links: A Whole Lotta Random

If you haven't noticed by now, I have a weakness for vintage posters from the 1940s and 50s.  I just Google image searched "victory garden" and found a treasure trove of old images.  You'll be seeing a lot of them. Just thought I'd let you know.

Anyway, I thought I'd give you some of the links that have come my way this last week or so. There's no theme or anything to them. Like the title of the post says, just a lot of random things. But variety is the spice of life, so here goes...

How to Make the Best Zucchini Bread Ever -- Simple Bites
I'd say it's about that time of year when the surplus zucchini comes.  I never have room to grow it (I guess I need yet another garden box), so I always offer to take others' extra zucchini off their hands.  This post is great not only because it has a recipe, but lots of tips and suggestions.  {This is where the victory garden picture comes in; see how they're related?}

An Inside Look at My Real Food Grocery Budget -- Saving Naturally
I'm a big believer in spending more for groceries (as in, organic when possible, responsibly raised beef/poultry, cage-free eggs, etc.) because I believe it translates to better health.  But that belief seems to contradict lots of mainstream views of saving money on food.  Anyway, over at Saving Naturally, there is an interesting post that gives an in-depth look into one woman's grocery budget and how she saves money buying organic and natural products.  I think I'll do a post like this someday, but I figure hers will suffice for now.

How to Make Brown Sugar - Joy the Baker
This is a great way to make brown sugar in a pinch. Bet you didn't know it was this easy. Or maybe you did. In any case, it's a good thing to know.

12 Ideas for Frugal Artwork - Simple Mom
Some decorating ideas for those who don't have a ton of money for nice artwork or who aren't married to an amazing artist like I am.  My favorite of the twelve ideas: framing children's book prints. Just scan pictures from your favorite children's books and then frame them. How simple and cool is that?

Parenting: Touching the Hearts of Our Youth
Not exactly about anything frugal, but a nice video that touched me this week. A great reminder for everyone.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Taking the Plunge

It's really hard to take a good picture of a plunger or find one on the Internet. Take my word for it -- a Google image search for plunger can yield some interesting and gross results. Okay, moving on.

I have long hair.  Always have (well, except that time when my former sister-in-law hacked off ten inches instead of six or seven), too.  As a result, my shower gets backed up frequently.  Not that I'm losing huge amounts of hair, but after a while it adds up.  It's not the most pleasant thing to talk about, but it's a fact of life. 

In any case, my husband and I were buying a lot of Draino to clear the shower drain. I hate using that stuff. Not only is it an added expense, but it is the ultimate in toxic household products.  The fumes, the long cautionary label -- all bad things.  Ick. Then again, what's my alternative?  Standing in a few inches of tepid shower water?  No thanks. The Draino purchase seemed like a must.

That was until I read an article in an issue of Real Simple years ago. It was full of tips from pros about ways people could save money on home repairs. One of the professionals in the article was a plumber and he said something to the effect that most people overlook the plunger as an effective plumbing tool. He said that a lot of the homes he'd visited that requested drain clearing sometimes only needed the use of a plunger. Most people think plungers are just for the toilet, but they can be used on any drain.  Could it work in the shower? I wondered.  So, I shared the article with the husband and we tried it on the shower drain.  Sure enough, after some work,  the drain bubbled and worked like a charm. 

Seeing as I didn't want to use the toilet plunger for all the other drains (cross-contamination, right?  Maybe I'm overly sensitive, who knows), I went and bought a plunger for a couple bucks for all my non-toilet drains.  Ever since, I've used that plunger for not only the shower drain, but the bathroom sink and the kitchen sink. In fact, I used it the other day when a bunch of spaghetti plugged up my now-broken kitchen disposal. 

One disclaimer:  the plunger doesn't work every time.  Once in a great while, we still need to buy the stinky Draino (though I've heard of some more natural drain cleaners -- I need to do some research). But instead of regularly buying it like we used to, we only use it a couple times a year or so.  The key is staying on top of the drains, particularly in the shower.  If my drain seems to be going a little slower than I'd like, I grab my non-toilet plunger, work at the drain for a little bit, and voila!  it drains as good as new.

Skip the toxic chemicals. Stop before you call the plumber.  Try the plunger. It may be just the answer to your plumbing problems.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lovely Links: "End of August Already?!" Edition

Is anyone else a little freaked out that August is on its way out?  Time flies.

Anyway, I've always liked the picture above. Norman Rockwell totally captured that pre- and post-vacation feel.  But I felt it was apropos for an end of summer post, too. It captures how I feel about the season. At the beginning, in June, I'm like the top picture, raring to go: barbecues, hours spent watching the boy play in the inflatable pool (while sitting next to it, bathing my feet), picnics, gardening, fireworks, popsicles, the whole shebang. By about now, I'm feeling like the bottom picture.  Summer was fun while it lasted and I'll miss it, but I'm feeling pretty ready for fall. Oh boy, don't even get me started on the many, many reasons I love fall...

So, before I totally brush off the summer season (I mean, it doesn't technically end until late September), I thought I'd share a few more summery links.  Enjoy!

Homemade Sidewalk Paint -- Hip Mountain Mama Blog
Just when I felt like I was running out of new things to do with the boy this summer, I came across this. So, so easy to make.  Just water, cornstarch, and food coloring. Thrifty and fun! Plus, a great way to reuse those yogurt cups you wash and save. You do wash and save them, don't you?

Spotlight Ingredient: Sweet Summer Corn -- Simple Bites
Maybe you're awesome and you're harvesting your own sweet corn.  Or maybe you love the roadside sweet corn stands like I do. In any case, sweet corn is one of the best parts of summer. This blog post from Simple Bites gives a quick tutorial on how to choose, clean, store, grill, and cook your corn. Plus, there's a couple recipes in the post, too. The sweet corn and avocado salad looks yummy. Though, you really can't beat just eating it off the cob with a little butter and salt.

Ruffle Shirt Tutorial -- Tea Rose Home
I was so impressed by this, I had to show my husband (seeing as no one else was around at the time) and he even thought it was cool.  This post shows how to transform a plain, old t-shirt into stylish, ruffle shirt. It doesn't look too hard to make, either. There are lots of back-to-school and end-of-summer sales going on right now - you could find some t-shirt and update it! And it could work for your clothes, as well as for a little girl's shirt.  Just check it out.  I think it's awesome.

Everyday Chocolate Cake -- Smitten Kitchen
I'm like Deb of Smitten Kitchen when it comes to chocolate and summer: for some reason, I relegate it to fall and winter. I don't even know why.  And like Deb of Smitten Kitchen, I'm going to break that trend and make this cake I saw on her site today. It's not a full-on cake since it's made in a loaf pan and there's no frosting. Not as fussy, you know? Perfect for a lazy Saturday summer afternoon. Maybe tomorrow!

Perfection: The Thief of Good Enough - Simple Mom
This doesn't have much to do with the end of summer, per se, but good advice is good at any time. This post just spoke to me. I've been beating myself up lately about all the things I'm not doing and just feeling overwhelmed.  I realize now it has to do, in large part, to my problem with perfectionism.  And you don't have to be a perfectionist to get something from this post; I think all of us could benefit (greatly, in some cases) in cutting ourselves some slack already.  Heaven knows, I need to.

Happy weekend, everyone!  Enjoy the sunshine while it's still here!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Whew! It's been a while since I've posted on here. Things got just a little too stressful/crazy/tiring at my house.  Between my boy being sick, my husband finishing a deadline at work (read: overtime), and me working on a long-term (and, might I add, exhausting) project, I just had to unplug for a little while. But I'm back and ready to post regularly again.

The last post on here was about fall planting, or as I call, "Round Two".  Fall planting is awesome because you get to enjoy all the spring and early summer crops again. And as many of you can attest, produce tastes best when it comes from your garden. 

Anyway, after the post about fall planting, I received a few comments expressing an interest in what I was going to plant for Round Two and when.  So, here it is.

What I'm Planting
Like I said in the previous post, you want to stick to cool weather crops for your fall planting, plants that can withstand cooler temperatures and even dips close to freezing. As I chose my seeds, I paid attention to the maturation time so that the growth period would fit in my time constraint (i.e. before the first fall frost. More on timing later). So, for my fall planting I'm growing:
  • Peas
  • Spinach, both the large and baby varieties
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce (I'm using a variety called 'Vivian', similar to romaine)
  • Swiss chard
  • Radishes
  • Mesclun (maybe)
Everything on the list is going to be planted in my garden boxes, except the peas (I'm growing those in pots like I did in the spring).  Mesclun is a maybe for me -- it all depends on how much room I have in my garden. Plus, I get nervous growing it since it's a sort of like a spring mix of various lettuces; I can never tell which are the lettuces and which are the weeds!

When I'm Planting
Now!  Not only did my blogging take a hit during my hiatus, but garden did too a little. I meant to get outside, but it just didn't happen like I'd hoped.  Ideally, you want to get a calendar and count backwards from your first frost date (check here for your state). Mine, for instance, averages around the second half of October.  Granted, this isn't for sure. It's entirely possible to get a frost in September here (I mean, we got snow in May this year! Anything can happen!).  Check the maturation dates on your plants, tack on an extra 14 days since they take a little longer to germinate in the summer, and use a calendar as a guide. 

According to my calendar and planning, I should have no problem with my peas, baby spinach (it only takes 38 days to mature!), radishes, carrots, and lettuce. My peas, spinach, and lettuce all withstood the snow this spring. The giant spinach and the Swiss chard have longer maturation dates, which make things a little iffy for them. Again, though, the spinach survived the snow, so they might be fine.  If I would have had more time, I would have started the spinach and chard last week, but I'm going to work with what I've got and take a gamble. I mean, in the end, what are you out if it doesn't work?  A few seeds -- and you have to deal with a little disappointment. Most people don't even know about fall planting anyway. But if it does work?  Well, you can just enjoy all the homegrown peas, carrots, and leafy greens yet again!

 "There are no gardening mistakes -- only experiments."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Round Two

I'm going to go ahead and blame the weird spring we had here.

Gives a whole new meaning to snow peas. 

Yeah, I planted these at the end of March. It snowed like three times at my house in April.  Not cool. So I blame Mother Nature's extreme mood swings for my less-than-stellar crop of peas, spinach, carrots, and lettuce.  I got a few plants but definitely not the crop I'd hoped for. The only way I didn't get depressed about it all was that I kept telling myself, "There's always the fall crop. There's always the fall crop..."

Lots of home gardeners plant their cool weather, frost-hardy vegetables -- carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, and others -- in the late spring. You can't plant leafy vegetables too late in the season or the hot summer sun turns the leaves bitter.  With peas, if you plant them after April 30, they're susceptible to pea borers and they also can get a bitter taste. However, if you plant another crop of these vegetables in late summer (August or September), you can have a harvest in the fall.  Lots of these cool weather plants, like spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, carrots, and peas can handle the lower temperatures of fall without problems. Lots of gardeners are unaware of this and think they have to wait until the following spring to enjoy the leafy veggies. Not so!  I'm already gearing up for what I'm calling "Round Two" this year!

To decide what to plant and when, you need to know when the first frost is in your area. For example, mine is right around Halloween. You can find out what your first frost date is here by entering your zip code. Then, using the information on your seed packet, find out long that certain crop takes to mature and count backwards from that date to determine when you should plant.  So, if you have a spinach variety that takes 40 days to mature, you'll want to count backwards from that first frost date to find the right window of time for planting.  I've read that some crops take a little longer to mature in the fall, so some suggest to tack on a couple extra weeks into your calcuations. Basically, if you're growing a plant that takes 40 days to mature, count back 54 days from your first frost. This isn't set in stone, though -- if you're off by a few days, you'll be fine. Nothing in gardening is an exact science.  Plus, some plants will be fine through the first frost anyway.  I've harvested carrots right around the beginning of November!

One more note about late summer planting: some seeds have a hard time germinating in the heat, so be sure to keep them well-watered.  If you're worried about poor germination, you can always use transplants from a nursery -- that is, if they are selling things like lettuce and spinach at this time of year. Like I said, not a lot of people know about the beauty of fall planting.

With some extra water and a little bit of planning, you can enjoy those delicious early summer crops once again! I can taste the homegrown salad already...
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