Cooking, Home and Family, Homemaking, Parenting

Life lessons while canning

We have finished bottling peaches for the year, and one lesson learned was such a fabulous observation, I am still smiling (and thinking).  As we taught my two oldest grandsons to peel the ripe peaches and put them in the jars, the nine-year-old remarked, “It goes more quickly if I go slowly….”.  He was referring to the reality that peach skin will rip (rather than peel) more easily if you pull quickly, or are in a hurry.  He’s right….and not just about peaches.

For him, it held lessons about slowing down in order to complete his math more precisely, or learning to take care with his penmanship so that it only takes one effort to be done. I’m sure we’ll be referring back to it for other lessons as well.

For the adults, it is continuing to teach us to remember to take time to slow down.  Children learn more quickly when we are patient.  Jobs get done more satisfactorily when we slow down and think things through.

And for Grandma.  Slow down.  Accept what you’re given with grace and gratitude.  Stop waiting for what may never be.  The Lord’s timing is perfect.

Be still, and know that I am God.  Psalms 46:10

Cooking, Finances, Home and Family, Homemaking, Homeschooling, Organization

It’s summertime!

Okay.  I admit it.  Summer is NOT my favorite season of the year.  Heat is not my friend.  Pulling weeds is exhausting.  I’m not a huge fan of bugs.  Yet there is one thing that I do love about summer; it gives me a chance to regroup before the return of cold weather, canning season, and the next school year.  What do I do each summer that makes me smile?  It’s time to start making lists, so I grab a notebook and pencil, and inventory my life.

Closets get a good once-ever.  Out with the stained, ripped, ill-fitting, and simply-not-worn items (other than gardening clothes.  They don’t have to look impressive…or even respectable.  As long as they are modest, I’m good.).  I can fill in the gaps I create for minimal cost as I thrift.

Food storage is checked and straightened.  What do I have that needs to be used, or tossed? Which foods need restocking through canning, drying, sales, etc.?  Have our eating habits changed?  How does that affect what I should be storing?  I love seeing neatly faced shelves, and the knowledge that I can cook whatever strikes my fancy without an emergency shopping trip!

This is a great time to tidy, sort, and overhaul the school stuff.  Which items need to go to someone else?  What is so loved (translation: worn-out) I really ought to find an additional or replacement?  What have I not used because I forgot about it?  I also take time to move the contents of my games/learning activities shelves around.  It gives my grandchildren and others who visit a chance to rediscover old, forgotten favorites, and try new things.

I check the linen closet.  It contains not only my towels, wash clothes, and such, it is where I store the OTC meds, extra supplements, first aid and personal care products.  What needs to go on the case lot shopping list?  Having this closet stocked and things in an easy to find place before cold and flu season hits gives me great peace of mind!

As I sort, I am making mental and written lists of needs to look for as I shop, or items to add to the budget to minimize surprises later.

While this list seems overwhelming, remember it is best to eat an elephant one bite at a time!  Pick one shelf, one closet, one drawer, one category and sort that, then in a day or two, work on another one.  In a week or two, you can look back and surprise yourself with how much got done!  And don’t forget to involve the children!  They can empty shelves, take things to the trash, assist with decisions (depending on their age), and if they helped create the mess, they get to help sort it and put it away properly!  Work with one or two kids at a time, or dive in with everyone and when you’ve finished, go do something fun or eat something yummy to congratulate yourselves on a job well done!

By the time autumn rolls around, and I am ready to hunker down for the coming cold weather, the house is ready.

Happy sorting!

Cooking, Home and Family, Homemaking

Confessions of a reluctant cook

Thanksgiving is this week, and I am beginning to shudder when I step into my kitchen.  We have close to twenty guests this year, and the cooking begins today. Don’t get me wrong.  I love Thanksgiving.  And I really enjoy the traditional foods for the holiday; I just don’t necessarily love cooking.  When I find a way to simplify things, I do.  So how do I cook for twenty in bite-sized chunks (pun intended)?

  • If I can make it ahead of time, I will.  The next few days will include grinding flours for rolls and pie crusts, making refrigerator roll dough and pie dough (kept in the fridge until Thursday morning), peeling potatoes (and leaving them in water so they don’t brown), par-baking and slicing yams, and anything else I can think of getting done.
  • Pull it from storage.  I bottle, dehydrate, freeze, and cook in large batches-not because I love to do it, but because one day busy in the kitchen helps save me time the rest of the year.  Our apple pie filling will be from the batch of 25 quarts we bottled a few weeks ago.  The apple butter is from a batch of 36 pints we put up in a couple of hours.  The corn is from my garden via the freezer.  Ditto on the peas.  Wassail will also come from the juice in 2 quart bottles downstairs.
  • Assign some things to others who are coming, or enlist the help of those who are at the house.  Working together helps the meal come together more quickly, and is definitely more fun!  (I claim the titles of Mother, Keeper of the Hearth, and a few others, but I am not a serving girl, servant, or hired help.  The Little Red Hen is one of my favorite stories after all!)
  • Smile.  Enjoy the wonderful smells in the house.  Anticipate the meal, and the yummy creations to follow in the next few days.  Enjoy the spirit of the season!

While I may not love cooking, the time with family and friends is precious.  The peace that comes with a grateful heart is needed and cherished.  And food feeds not just our bodies; it also feeds our souls!

Cooking, Homemaking

Promises kept

It is the 8th of October!  Wow.  I am finally back at the keyboard.  It has taken four weeks for me to get to where I can get my head above water from harvest season (and family emergencies).  Yeah!  We are almost there!  November is in sight.

Our family, including the grandchildren, has bottled, dried, cooked, frozen fruits and vegetables, and stocked the food room.  We have corn, peppers (in various forms), salsa, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash, herbs, and other various and sundry foods prepared and ready for the coming cold weather.  Pears are next.  (I have three bushels in my kitchen calling my name.)  Then more salsa, peppers, and beans.  Apples can wait a week or two- thank heaven!   I may even put up some grape juice.

Seemingly unrelated, but not really, I was in my scriptures and came across these verses.

  • Psalms 23:5-Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…my cup runneth over.
  • Malachi 3:10-Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there my be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

My kitchen currently “runneth over”, and we are needing to reorganize in the pantry because there is not currently “room enough to receive it” without some focused planning.

I love this time of year.  The feeling of coming together.  Planning for the Holidays.  And the end of canning season.  It always served as a great reminder to me that the Lord keeps His promises to those who are faithful, and will bless us as quickly as we can accept what He sends!

Now, back to the kitchen…


Cooking, Home and Family, Uncategorized

Easy meals

The wedding is over!  Yeah!  We all got through it, and are so glad to have had a day where the entire family was together.  The bride and groom were happy with how things went, so I am considering the entire affair a huge success!  (I realize I have said that before, but I just have to crow.  It really took over our life, and will be in my thoughts for days to come!)

Back to real life.  I noticed the day after the wedding (Saturday) that I have tomatoes turning red in bulk.  The first planting of dried beans is ready to be harvested and shelled.  And there are three rows of corn that are ready.  The peaches should be ripe on the tree any day now.  And the beets are becoming rather colossal.  Time to take on a different aspect of “keeper of the hearth”.  Canning/freezing will continue for the next eight weeks or so.  Time to fill the food shelves, and prepare for the coming cold weather.  (I love autumn and the feeling of “circling the wagons” that comes with it.  And the food is yummy in January!)

Now to the title of this post.  What do you feed your family when you have all been in the kitchen all day, and everyone is tired of food prep?

Here are some of my favorite ideas:

  • Tacos- bottled black beans, spiced bottled chicken or hamburger, grated cheese, warm tortillas (from the store.  This is no time to make your own.), and whatever produce is ready from the garden.  Try them with tomato, cucumber, corn, and thinly-sliced pepper.
  • Grilled cheese and garden veg.  Easy comfort food that uses minimal dishes and allows for easy clean-up.
  • Mac-n-cheese and spam.  Slice the spam thinly on a mandoline, or cut into chunks, brown and then add to the mac-and-cheese.  Add applesauce and whatever veg you have to your plate, and chow down!
  • Stuffed tomatoes.  If I serve them for dinner, I don’t have to bottle them later.  Use tuna, egg, ham, or chicken salad.  Add cucs for crunch.  Yum!
  • Quesadillas.  A different take on grilled cheese.  Add meat or refried beans before you cook, and they can be filling and yummy.  Dip in sour cream, or salsa.
  • Now is the time to pull the chicken patties out of the freezer.  Serve on a sandwich, or with pasta and sauce for a quick chicken parmesan.
  • Turn bottled beef chunks into stroganoff or just a quick gravy, and serve over noodles, rice, or tater tots.  Add veg or fruit and it cooks up in a jiffy and feeds a hungry crew.

There are so many wonderful things to eat!  What are your favorite quick meals?


Cooking, Homemaking

Canning season has begun

It has begun- the season of food preservation.  Every year I grin as we plant our garden.  The sun is finally back, the soil is warm, and I look forward to those first, fresh shoots of green.  Then it hits.  Lots of green.  Lots of food.  Time to do something with it all.

Peas get blanched and go into the freezer today.  Snow peas are soon to follow.  The big project for the next two days though is bottling beef.  I found a tremendous mark-down on hamburger and roast this week, so into bottles it goes.  Once processed, it is fully-cooked and ready for whatever is on the menu.

Here is how it works:

Pack prepared canning jars to just under 1 inch from the rim with hamburger or beef chunks.  Add 1/2 tsp beef soup base to each quart (half that amount for pints).  Put sterilized lids and rings on, and process in a pressure canner  at 15 pounds pressure for 90 minutes (75 minutes for pints).    Remove when the pressure is down to zero.  Let cool and store in a cool, dark place.  (These are the required amounts for the Rocky Mountain region.  Check with your local extension service for correct poundage and cooking time for your area.)

What do you do with it?  LOTS!  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Stroganoff
  • Beef enchilladas
  • Stews/soups
  • Meat and gravy
  • Chili
  • Tacos
  • Spaghetti
  • Calzones
  • And one of our favorites.  Cook off beef/liquid.  Add sauted peppers and mushrooms.  Add provolone cheese.  Use all ingredients to fill rolled-out bread dough.  Roll and cut as if for cinnamon rolls.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  YUM!

I love having meat already prepared for those days when I forgot to thaw something the night before.  (I also bottle boneless/skinless chicken using the same method.)  If I can put up proteins (next week I will bottle dried beans) before the craziest part of the food preservation season hits, I know that I have easy meals ready for those days when I want/need to spend minimal time cooking so that I can spend it in the garden, or putting other foods up for winter.

Cooking, Finances, Gardening, Home and Family, Homemaking, Organization, Parenting

Learning life’s grammar

(Just a note- this post is awfully close to a rant.)

I looked up the word “grammar” in the dictionary recently, and one of the definitions is the “basic or beginning principles of a subject.”  It is generally paired with language, but everything in life has a grammar to learn.  With that definition in mind, I started thinking about the following:

  • Life is based on eternal, unchanging rules. We will be happier when we serve, smile, and learn to love people.  There are absolutes.  Dishonesty is wrong.  End of story.  Giving of yourself brings blessings to you ten-fold.  Family is the basic unit of society and deserves the best we can give it.  God is good.  Talk to Him.  He will help!
  • Parenting is a challenge.  Your children are NOT simply blank slates to write on at your will. Take time and read about how children grow, and what is reasonable to expect.  Personalities differ.  Learn about them.  Everyone has their own set of gifts and challenges.  Go to those who seem to know what they are doing, and learn from them.  Being a parent is so much more fun when you aren’t trying to “reinvent the wheel” and you can relax a bit!
  • Learn how to get organized.  Read books.  Search online.  Talk with people.  Chaos is unnecessary and makes everything harder.  Things don’t have to be in cute, designer, matching containers where everything color-co-ordinates!  Just learn how to put things together, and have a system that makes sense to you.  When you learn the basics of how to organize your space, time, and resources, you can move through life more smoothly.
  • Everyone needs to learn how to cook.  Not just how to read a recipe (although that is a good thing too), but why what happens in the kitchen happens.  Most whole grains cook up similarly.  Which are exchangeable?  A white sauce, gravies, and many other pan sauces start with a roux. What about a “skeleton recipe” for muffins, bread, soups, or casseroles?  When you know the basics of what is involved, you can mix-and-match what you have to make something new.  Which foods can you freeze and want to eat again when they are thawed?  We won’t all be gourmet chefs but we can all learn how to feed ourselves and our families without poisoning someone, or depending on pre-made, processed food.
  • Cleaning can be much simpler and cheaper if you understand which cleaners can be used for multiple applications, and which cannot.  We use an all-purpose organic cleaner, vinegar, citrus, shampoo, baking/washing soda, and peppermint oil to clean.  Just a few things will leave my house looking great and smelling fresh.
  • You get one body in this life.  What are the basic rules of health and nutrition to keep it running smoothly?  How much sleep does your body need?  How are your eating habits?  Is exercise a foreign concept?  Health challenges come to everyone but we can choose to make the best of whatever comes our way.
  • Keep a budget.  Know the basic rules of finances and make them your friends.  We have to learn to live with them.  Remember: $3 income – $2 expenses= happiness; $5 income -$6 expenses= misery.
  • Growing your own food is a boon to your health and your budget…unless you buy all the newest gadgets, pay for premium seed in the tiny packets, and haven’t learned when, where, and how to put things in the ground.  You can grow your own starts but if you plant them outside too soon, you’ll need to grow your own starts twice.  Some plants don’t handle the cold well.  Others need to go in before the threat of frost is past.  Peas and spinach prefer cool weather, and will bolt or die off in the heat.  You don’t need the latest and greatest of everything to begin; just borrow a couple of books from the library, find out how things work best in your area, and start digging!
  • Don’t try to teach your children advanced skills without building a foundation.  If they don’t know their times tables, algebra will be frustrating!  In that same light, they need to learn how to compromise and problem-solve before you send them out into the workplace to get a job, or go to college.

There is so much “grammar” we never learned at school.  Today is a great day to start!