Monthly Archives: January 2016

Blueberry Jam

Blueberry JamSo the canning season was pretty productive in our home this past summer! As I shared in my previous post, I wasn’t able to plant my big garden this summer due to our yard conditions. So I kept my eyes open for good deals everywhere I went and also took advantage of “U-Pick” opportunities. Over the summer, we were shopping at a farm market and found an awesome deal, 2 pounds of blueberries for $4! That is a great deal! So we stocked up and bought 6 pounds with plans to make them into blueberry jam. I haven’t made a lot of jams or jellies before. In fact, I have only made jelly one other time and that was actually the first thing that we ever canned-cherry jelly. I will tell you that story another time.Blueberry Jam2So with 6 pounds of blueberries on our hands, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work! First round of canning for the season! After zero canning last summer, I was so excited to haul out my water bath canner and choose some empty canning jars from my shelf. This was our first time making a jam and I’m pretty happy with the results. We got a delicious flavor and just the right consistency. Just a warning, it will take a little bit of patience to get it just perfect!Blueberry Jam3We chose a pretty simple recipe and it is listed below. Hopefully you have as much fun making it as my husband and I did!

*Just a side note: When you are starting out with canning, I advise to get a good book to read to ensure that you are knowledgeable about the canning process. Anytime you are canning, you need to ensure the proper processes are followed to ensure that foods are processed safely. My favorite book on canning is: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.*Blueberry Jam4Blueberry Jam

16 cups blueberries (wash and sort to ensure no stems or bad fruit)
7 cups sugar
¼ cup lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a stock pot-ensure that it is not more than 2/3 full or it will bubble over.

Mash all ingredients together with a potato masher-I also used my Kitchen-Aid immersion blender. This really did a good job smoothing out the jam and just left a few chunks of fruit in it.

Bring to a boil over medium heat. Ensure that you are stirring frequently to prevent any sticking. Dependent on how much jam you are making it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for it to get to the right consistency. (I put a few spoons in the freezer and used these to test the jam throughout the process, just scoop a little out with your “freezer spoon” and let it sit for a minute to cool and then taste. Be careful not to burn your mouth! You should wait until it sets up to a thicker consistency when cooling in the spoon.)

Once it is the right thickness, fill jars leaving a ¼ inch head space and process jars for 10 minutes, take the lid off the canner and continue to process for 5 additional minutes. Remove jars and cool. Then enjoy a delicious treat…I’m thinking an English muffin topped with cream cheese then smothered in blueberry jam!

Enjoy!Blueberry Jam

How I planned my herb garden

How I planned my herb garden

The cold of winter has finally set in. The wind is frigid and the snow is falling. It makes me long for the warm summer sun. I’m sure you all are dreaming of higher temperatures too, so what better thing to do than plan your garden for spring! Winter is the perfect time of year to create your garden plans, whether you are planning a flower, herb or vegetable garden. The long evenings provide plenty of time to pour over seed catalogs, research plant varieties and choose just the right ones for your own garden!

Dill

So as I sit here sipping my steaming cup of peppermint tea, let me share with you how I planned my herb garden at the new house…

I absolutely LOVE to grow my own herbs! I enjoy using them fresh in my cooking throughout the summer-like putting fresh basil leaves in my homemade tomato soup, fresh oregano on my pizza and fresh dill or chives on my baked potatoes…mmmmm! I also dry my surplus at the end of the summer and use them throughout the year as teas and seasonings! I have basically replaced a majority of my store-bought herbs with homegrown ones! Now that is both frugal and healthy!! I will share my process for harvesting, drying and using herbs in a future post! But for now, let’s talk about how I planned my herb garden.

My First Herb Garden

My first herb garden (at our previous house-pictured above) was really small. I only had space for a few plants, so I chose my favorites peppermint, spearmint, oregano, lavender, and chives. Even in a small space, I always had a decent harvest. When we moved into the new house, I knew I wanted to dedicate a larger space for my herbs! I also wanted it to be a convenient location, close to the house so that I have easy access to cut herbs for cooking.

Overall, herbs are relatively easy to grow. Some people consider a lot of herbs to be weeds due to their rapid growth and expansion. However, if you put some time into keeping them wrangled in, they can look really nice in a garden while still providing you with a bountiful harvest of fresh herbs throughout the spring and summer and still have a surplus for drying in the fall!

Basil

When choosing which herbs I wanted to plant in my new garden, I put quite a bit of thought into it. I knew that I wanted the majority of the plants I chose to be perennials so that they would last more than one season. I also wanted to be sure to select varieties that I would be sure to love. This is what I ended up choosing:

  • Chives
  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon Balm
  • Thyme
  • Tarragon
  • Oregano
  • Chamomile
  • Rosemary

I also had a separate section of garden where I chose to plant some annuals: Dill and Basil.

When deciding what herbs to plant in your garden, ask yourself these questions:

What herbs do I generally use in my everyday recipes?

What herbs grow well in my climate?

How much space do I have? Which will tell you-How many varieties can I plant?

Spend some time putting thought into your garden plans. Research uses for herbs and decide which ones would be most useful for your family. Also, remember to choose a good location for your herb garden. You want your herbs to be close enough to the kitchen that it is easy and convenient to cut herbs for daily use. If it is too inconvenient, your herbs will never get used and go to waste.

Lavender

Keep in mind that if it is well thought out and well cared for, these plants could be providing you with an abundant harvest for years to come!

Happy Garden Planning!!:)

How I planned my herb garden

How to be frugal in the kitchen: Food Inventory

Kitchen Inventory

As you know, making frugal choices is very important to me. I strive to be a good steward in everything that I do. I hate to admit this but despite my frugal endeavors, I still find myself throwing away food. Every time you throw away food, you are literally throwing away your money.

If you read my previous post on meal-planning, you know that I recommend taking an inventory of what ingredients you have on hand. This way you know how much food you have and you know when you’re getting low and need to restock. There are a number of reasons this is important:

  • Choosing recipes for your meal plan by using what you already have at home is a wise decision because you obviously won’t have to purchase as many groceries, thus saving money. I always try to make my meal plans around the meat I have on hand in my freezer. This saves a lot of money since meat is such an expensive item. To save money on meat purchases, we purchase meat in bulk and we also eat a lot of wild game (deer, goose, and turkey.)
  • By having an inventory, you are eliminating duplicate purchases and ending up with too many of one item. If I don’t refer to my inventory list prior to making my grocery list, sometimes my memory fails me and I purchase another of an item I already have. Who needs three bottles of the same thing-Not me! And on top of that, if it is an item that you don’t use frequently, you run the risk of throwing it away before you have the opportunity to use it all up! (There’s that wasting money issue again!)

Inside Chest Freezer

I have 2 different freezer inventory lists that I keep on hand. I have an inventory sheet for my chest freezer in the basement which I keep on the freezer so that every time I remove an item, I am reminded to mark it off the list. I also keep an inventory of the freezer upstairs because it holds a lot of food as well. It is important to ensure that you are marking the items off as you use them to keep your list accurate. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t check it off the list as soon as I do it, I will forget! You don’t want all of the time and effort you put into completing the inventory to be wasted. I also keep a list of all of our home-canned items. Again, I keep it on the canning shelf so that when I remove an item, it is handy to mark off the item. I do not currently keep an inventory of my pantry items because all of the items are very visible when I open my cupboards. I don’t see the need to keep a checklist since it is all so easy to see how much I have of each item.

Chest Freezer

So, the inventory process itself is pretty self-explanatory. I take all of the food out of the freezer and organize it on the table. I count how many of each item I have. I use a sheet of graph paper and list the different food items down the left hand side, then I highlight one square for each one of that item (if I have 10 1-lb packages of ground venison, I highlight 10 squares.) Be detailed with your inventory-you always want to know what you have prior to making grocery lists. As I mentioned above, you don’t want to get to the grocery store and over-buy just because you can’t remember if you have a particular ingredient.

This method has definitely saved us a ton of money! It makes my meal-planning and grocery planning a lot simpler since I know what I have on hand. Keeping a food inventory and meal-planning go hand-in-hand! This is an excellent way to add more organization to your kitchen and more order to your homemaking routines!

Kitchen Inventory

 

 

Starting out on our 1-acre homestead

Starting out on our 1 acre homestead

Having such a blank slate is wonderful! My creative mind is running wild with the possibilities of what we could do. My mind is instantly filled with images of mature fruit trees providing bushels of fruit every fall, grape vines filled with beautiful clusters of grapes, an extensive garden that can supply my family with food for the entire winter and maybe even some chickens!

So when I say we are starting out, we truly are starting from scratch. We started with an acre of dirt left behind after the construction of our new home. We moved into our new home in November, so there was no time to get anything done prior to winter. So, after enduring the long winter last year (that seemed like it was never going to end) we were finally able to get our hands dirty…very dirty! As soon as it was warm enough to work outside, we got busy working! We spent a lot of time clearing brush, cutting down trees and pulling sticks and roots out of the ground. Our acre of dirt was quickly overrun by weeds, crabgrass, etc. So in order to “keep up appearances” with the neighbors, we thought we better try to mow this yard of ours. Otherwise, we would look like we were living in a jungle. My poor hubby tackled our bumpy, stick-filled weeds with the mower week after week. It did get a little easier throughout the summer as we removed more of the debris cluttering the yard, but it was still a challenge.

Yard Work

The summer really seemed to drag as we were waiting for the cooler fall weather for planting the grass but we kept ourselves busy with other projects. We started with some landscaping around the house! And we also continued throughout the summer with clearing brush and cleaning up the yard. Since the yard was still unruly, we were unable to start our vegetable garden however, we will get it planned out over the winter and get it prepared early in the spring! To satisfy my longing for my extensive garden as mentioned above, we did get my herb garden planted as well as a lone tomato plant on the porch in a pot! But I will take what I can get! We were so blessed with the opportunity to build a home and I couldn’t ask for anything more. We are so thankful for our new home and are enjoying every minute of it! If it means waiting until next summer to be able to plant my dream garden then I’m okay with that. It will just give me more time to plan and pick out just the right variety of veggies to fill up all of my canning jars and my freezer next summer!

With the lack of a garden, we supplemented by going to local “U-Pick” farms to replenish our supply of homemade canned goods! We were quite low on all of our favorites due to moving. We didn’t do any canning the summer before because we knew that we would be moving and empty canning jars are lighter and easier to move than full ones! We were able to do quite a bit of canning including: stewed tomatoes, tomato soup, salsa, dill pickles, bread & butter pickles and blueberry jam. So our shelves are once again filled with delicious local vegetables for the winter!!

Planting the grass

As far as the fall grass planting goes, some friends of ours (who also happen to be landscapers) helped us get our yard leveled, prepped and planted. The grass did really well and started to grow before the winter weather hit. I am really excited to see what it does in the spring! I know my husband is looking forward to having a nice level yard to mow next year, rather than the one full of ruts and bumps that he had to deal with this past summer!

Growing Grass

So here’s to dreaming of spring! Thoughts of our new garden, our beautiful green grass and lots of hopes & dreams of our future on our 1-acre homestead!

What are you dreaming of for the spring?

If you would like to follow along with our progress as we continue to make our house a home and expand our homestead, please hop on over to my monthly homestead updates here!

Starting out on our 1 acre homestead

 

Grilled Pizza

What’s for dinner? (the reason I started meal-planning)

This was the question being asked at our house when I got home from work every night, usually late (6:30 or later.) Frazzled, I would run around the kitchen whipping open cupboard doors and digging through the freezer, in the hopes that a wonderful idea would present itself to me. It usually presented itself in the form of a freezer meal or boxed meal, something void of any real nutritional value and chock full of preservatives.

Measuring Cups & Spoons

Needless to say, my husband and I came to the conclusion that this had to stop. It was causing a lot of unwanted and unneeded stress to our home. So, my husband came up with the idea to start planning our meals. This was several years ago before you ever heard much about meal-planning. So I didn’t have very many resources to consult besides my recipe books! The plan we came up with was to plan out 2 weeks worth of meal ideas and schedule them out according to my work schedule ( easier meals on nights I worked late and more in-depth meals were saved for days I would be home earlier.)Then, based on the recipes I chose for my meal plan, I would put together my grocery list. (This was also the beginning of our bi-weekly grocery shopping trips.) I also needed to keep my grocery budget in mind to make sure that any additional items I needed for these meals would not exceed our budget. Another thing to keep in mind is to consult my pantry/freezer inventory sheet (I will write about this in a future post.) I definitely don’t want to blow my budget by buying items that I already have in the pantry.

Pan Fried Rainbow Trout with Carmelized Onions

Another step we took to making meal planning a little easier was to compile a list of our favorite and frequent meals. I categorized them by main ingredient (ground beef, chicken breast, etc.) So now when I sit down to make my meal plan, I’m not pulling my hair out trying to come up with ideas.

It is important that you consult your meal-plan daily to ensure that you are doing any necessary tasks ahead of time, such as thawing meat. It will not work out very well if I get home from work at 6:30 and the meat is frozen solid. Then it’s back to square one of rummaging through the freezer to see if there’s something easy.

Grilled Pizza

Any time that you are introducing a new routine into your life, it is very important to set yourself up for success. If I had just tried to start meal-planning from scratch without putting any other effort into it, I probably would’ve become overwhelmed and given up. But instead of just jumping into it blindly, my husband and I sat down, came up with some good ideas to make it achievable, took action on those ideas and then made it happen!

Keep in mind that nobody is perfect, from time to time we do alter our meal plan. Maybe we have a lot of leftovers in the fridge from the past few days, so we will have a leftover night. The meal planned for that night will just get put back on the list for the next 2 weeks of switched out for another evening that week. Be flexible and do what works best for you and your family!

Meatloaf Dinner

So here is my method of meal-planning in a list:

  • Make a list of your family’s favorite and frequent meals-categorize them the way that makes the most sense to you. I use main ingredient (usually by meat.)
  • Complete a pantry/freezer inventory so that you know what foods you have on hand.
  • Choose your recipes for 1-2 weeks and plan them out by day.
  • Write out your grocery list to accommodate the recipes that you’ve chosen.
  • Go get those groceries!
  • Then, sometimes the hardest step: Stick to your plan!!:)
  • Prepare ahead-If you know you need to thaw a roast for tomorrow’s dinner, make sure you think ahead and prepare. Set yourself up for the success or sticking to your plan!

New Years represents a fresh start and is the perfect time to put a new routine into place! I challenge you to try meal-planning (if you haven’t already). This method has been extremely beneficial in our home. It has brought peace and order to our evening routines!

Happy meal-planning!