or, "You're a full time homemaker? What do you do all day long?"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cupboard Craziness Sorted Out

     It was a long overdue project. Thanks to my Thanksgiving cleaning and organization of the visible places in my home,  I was "freed up" to tackle my "hot spots." That would be my medicine cabinet, my spice cabinet, my dish and glass cabinet, and my recipe/cook book "cabinets," drawers, etc. All in my kitchen - the place I spend almost as much time in daily as my bed sleeping at night! Because I'm trying to stick to a tight budget, really enjoy baking and cooking, and enjoy eating homemade food, I make a lot of my food from scratch. (See previous posts).
     I didn't take a picture of my medicine cabinet before I wrestled with it, but here is the final picture. It was very disorderly before, with too many bottles all over the kitchen counter. Now, everything is labeled, entirely in the cabinet, and much more accessible.

     The next cupboard was my spice cabinet. I actually moved it over to the cupboard to the left of my microwave. I also switched my glasses, plates and bowls next to my kitchen table and right across from the dishwasher. This seems to make more logistical sense to me.
a mess!

all emptied - yucky! Lots of elbow grease for this cabinet!
     Tim enjoys tea frequently. So, I strategically made the right side of this cupboard, which is close to our hot water dispenser and right above our silverware,  full of mugs, all of our tea, and a sugar bowl. Since Tim likes to use the tea kettle to heat his water up, that's up there within his reach. Voila! A "tea cupboard" for him.

     This is my spice cabinet in its new, wider cupboard. To the left of it I have odd-sized cups, empty jars for grease, some small appliances I use frequently on that counter below, some pitchers and school snacks I keep within easy reach when packing the girls' lunches also at that counter. My kitchen tasks now flow more easily with reorganized cupboards.
      As a side note, it might sound strange, but I prayed and asked God to give me wisdom as to where to put things. I believe he knows my habits and needs better than I do. He answered! He really does care about the little things which just so happen to take up a HUGE amount of my time. Thank you, Lord!
New storage location for most of my cook books
     Biggest task ahead: showing Tim and the girls, and patiently reminding them, where things should now be placed. Old habits die hard!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Centerpieces: Low on Cost with High Appeal

     I love cut flowers anytime, anywhere. However, the frugal pragmatist in me prefers plants and potted flowers. Since I was hosting Thanksgiving at my house this year one element I factored in to the whole set up for a group of 35 was the decorations. I have lots of different sizes and colors of table cloths already, so my main focus was on the centerpieces. To stick within a very limited budget, but still have something attractive, this was what I came up with.
     Several factors:
1) I really wanted some miniature roses for my garden in the early fall but couldn't afford them. They're around 3$-5$ at OSH and Trader Joe's. If I chose flowers I wanted to eventually plant in my yard, I would be killing two birds with one stone.
2) I shopped around for baskets and went to Michael's for their 40% off sale. The cheapest basket was around $4.
3) I decided to go to the Salvation Army thrift store and scored 5 really nice baskets for only .89 cents each. I was jazzed!
4) On my way home I stopped by the .99 Cent store "just because." Lo and behold, I found beautiful potted plants, including miniature roses, for only - well, you guessed it - .99 cents! Totally thrilled!
5) I picked up 2 packs of gray moss and a box of glittery pumpkins at Wal-Mart for basket fillers and decorations. I bought some sheer ribbon for about $3. Total spent: about $10.
6) I snagged some gold tissue paper that was going to be thrown out from the Thanksgiving Dessert Outreach our church had.

     I thoroughly enjoyed putting together the 5 basket centerpieces. What's even better is that if I take out the glittery pumpkins and replace them with shiny ornaments and put a small bag of homemade toffee in the basket, I can give these baskets away as gifts to neighbors or the girls' teachers. The plants will easily stay alive and blooming till Christmas time. I figured I saved about $20 by shopping at bargain places. I thought the centerpieces looked quite attractive, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Summer Squash and Tomatoes

      I love summer cooking!
Bountiful, robust, fabulous tomatoes (25 lbs. worth -  I weighed them!)
     I'm finally ready to post pictures of my squash and tomato recipes. I had a bumper crop of Italian squash/zucchini and tomatoes this summer. The sauces and dishes I made were so tasty!

Coring and preparing my tomatoes to be added to boiling water then ice water for easy skin removal

Squishing the peeled tomatoes to prep them for making a sauce was fantastically fun! I could play with my food and not get in trouble!
     After squishing my tomatoes, I let the water drain out of them by putting them in a colander. I placed them in quart-size freezer bags and then pop them in the freezer. When I need stewed tomatoes for any recipe, I just take these out and put them in my recipe. Sometimes I'll defrost them beforehand, or not. They taste great!
     I also sautee onions and fresh-chopped garlic in olive oil then throw in a package of these tomatoes to the pot. I make seasoning my sauce super easy by adding a packet of spaghetti seasoning mix from the grocery store as well as extra basil and oregano. This sauce coupled with any pasta and a generous helping of mozzarella and parmesan cheese is very delicious and really cheap!

Lightly breaded and fried zucchini dipped in ranch dressing was oh-so-delectable
(Ignore my messy stove top!) I was preparing zucchini boats stuffed with brown rice, beans, tomatoes, cheedar cheese and seasonings topped with tomato sauce, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and olive oil. I baked them at 350 degrees till they were softened and the cheese was melted on top.
These could not have been MORE delicious!
    I'm including a link to a recipe for fabulous blueberry zucchini bread. This is probably one of my favorite quick bread recipes.

     I am still having a blast using my zucchini that I chopped, blanched and then froze. Gardening and cooking is a great combination of activities. Now I'm working on my winter vegetable garden. So far, it's looking like lots of salads are coming our way....I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pumpkin Pleasures

     It should be noted at the outset of this post that I have a great affection for pumpkins. There are several reasons for this abundance of adoration for the festive orange squash, but suffice it to say that it accompanies sweet memories.
My sugar babies

Do you notice my "field pumpkin" off to the
upper left corner?
     This season I successfully grew my first crop of Halloween pumpkins. I was exhilarated to get a dozen beautiful, shapely, lovely-hued orange pumpkins in the rear of my yard. Two vines grew out of my fence and into the field. So persistent! I love it! One pumpkin, in particular, was a special project of mine. A man came to our church about  8 months ago whose sister is a friend of mine. He's a new believer and his testimony of how he came to accept Jesus Christ as his savior involves a pumpkin he stole a year ago. This pumpkin, and all that occurred when his lie was discovered, captured my attention. It was my intention to grow one just for him with his name carved on it. A keloid formed over his name that was carved on it in the early stages of his pumpkin's development. (My kids kept asking me, "Who's Antonio?")The symbolism is that even in his sin, God had his name written in the Lamb's Book of Life, just like his name is carved on the pumpkin. Additionally, our names are carved in Jesus' palms. From our sin, God can cause new life to grow from the very things that caused us to stumble. I gave it to him a couple of weeks back and he seemed very touched by the symbolism.He's really a sweetheart. I believe this gift was from God's heart. God uses everything to affirm his love and delight in us!
       Furthermore, I grew enough pumpkins that the neighbor kids that play at our house picked their own pumpkin. It was a blast. Pumpkins and kids just go together, like peanut butter and jelly.

Daisy's pumpkin might be heavier than she is!

Our neighbor, Olivia, picking her pumpkin

Julia enjoying her pumpkin "purchase"

      I also grew sugar pumpkins for canning, baking and cooking. I got about 24 of these precious little beauties. I saw a "special" in the grocery store today: $2.49 per sugar pumpkin reduced from $2.99. These grocery store pumpkins were about 1/2 the size of many of mine. Imagine how much I saved by growing my own! With the small amount spent on seeds and plants (I did both) and the amount of watering (not a significant cost), I probably saved about $70 growing my own organic sugar pumpkins. I cut them up, baked them, strained the excess water out of the cooked pulp, and then froze quite a bit to use in breads, soups,  pumpkin pies and other pumpkin desserts. I also like to roasted the seeds with olive oil and garlic salt. They were perfectly tasty and crunchy. Quite nutritious, too!

pumpkin fritters - see recipe that follows
     These were packed with squashy, sweet goodness! I used cooked pumpkin and fried them in canola oil. That's why they are more like fritters than "buns." I then dusted them with powdered sugar. Yum!
 What pumpkin-themed post would be complete without pumpkin-carving pictures? Tim and the girls had a creative, pumpkin gut-busting time carving these babies.

Happy Pumpkin Season!