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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Playing with Pizzas

So, lately, we've fallen in love with pesto as a pizza sauce replacement, and boy, is this a nice way of using some of the pesto in the freezer!

Pesto is a lovely replacement for the traditional red sauce, especially on primarily-veggie pizzas like the one you see at the right.  It allows toppings like sliced tomatoes to shine, and it is a nice balance for toppings of greens, like the fresh kale that I used.

On a standard pizza crust (I'm still playing with crust recipes, but this one is promising), put 1-2 ounces of lightly-salted pesto.  If you are making your own pesto, you probably want it more lightly salted than the pesto you would use for pasta.  Since I don't put salt in my pesto to freeze it, I was fine with it as is.

Use plenty of veggie toppings.  Because it is so early in the season, I splurged on some organic tomatoes and topped them with just a light sprinkling of cheese.  Greens are a nice touch if placed on as soon as you take the pizza out of the oven; they'll wilt but not overcook.  Use hearty-flavored greens like kale or arugula; fresh dandelion leaves might be nice too.

Voila, a whole different pizza taste.  I promise it won't disappoint.
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Monday, April 18, 2016

In the Aftermath

Well, we finally made it through the power outage around here.  Eleven days, but we came out the other side with a lot of really good improvements to the electrical system for the house. This seems to be our MO: we wait for something to break, and then we make all sorts of improvements when we fix it or have it fixed.  I've gotten a new roof and a couple of new floors that way, too.

But from a sustainable living perspective, those couple of weeks were a bit of a disaster. I should have repotted my tomato plants, but it was sleeting outside and 52 degrees in the house and I had no grow lights or warm mats for them to sit on, so I left them in their baby pots. So, that means that my tomatoes are now a couple of weeks behind. I just repotted this weekend, and they are enjoying their first days in the sun.

We also are trying a new experiment this year: asparagus. Assuming it takes, we won't, of course, be able to harvest any for a year or two, but I figured it was time to try this crop. Every year, I've wanted to put in asparagus, and every year I say that we won't be living here for the next season, so why bother? Maybe the act of actually planting some asparagus will get us to be able to move.

Gardening season is ramping up quickly, though. We're enjoying lots of fresh baby kale on sandwiches, and I'm hoping to plant some pots of mesclun tonight. Pretty soon, we'll be making a dent in our grocery budget once again, which will be a welcome event. I plan to tell you about the way we rotate our seasonal projects very soon.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Prepper Dress Rehearsal

So, all the good "prepper" books and web sites tell you to be sure to practice with your gear once in a while so you are ready for emergencies. Mr. FC&G inadvertently have been running a little dress rehearsal for the past week, which, heaven willing, is almost over even as I type.

It started when we began to lose power to certain parts of the house. The local tree trimmer was working near the power lines, and we naturally assumed something had been hit or dislodged, and we waited until they were finished to call the power company.

Well, the power company came out and said that our 50 year old meter box (unsurprisingly) had taken some damage over the years, and it needed replaced. And then they unhooked all the power to the house and said to give them a call when it was fixed and took off.

So, while Mr. FC&G did the repairs (thank heavens for marrying an electrical engineer!) and we waited for an inspection, we've been living rough. But along the way, we have gotten the "opportunity" to test our preps. Some lessons:

1. It's always the first world problems that get you.
If unplugging the house meant that the entire world were unplugged, we'd have had a much easier time of it. Most of our anxiety involved running a generator to drive, in part, the computers and internet access we would need to work our jobs. Our second problem was running the refrigerator and freezer. I've been in the process of converting more of my food storage efforts to pressure-canned food for this very reason, but our expensive meat from the CSA requires us to keep running that freezer so we don't take a loss.

2. Thank heavens for the fireplace insert.
I used to hate the look of a fireplace insert until I weathered a few power outages around here. Then, I started loving the fact that I could heat the lower level main room and even cook meals on the thing. If you have a largely-decorative fireplace, I'd say a stove insert is one of the best things you can buy.

3. Your gear is not irrelevant.
Every time I buy prepper gear, I feel profoundly stupid. But every time I have to live without power, I'm grateful. In the photo above, we got out the small cast iron skillet (the large one is theoretically packed safely away in the garage in some location that we can't remember!) and the two-cup tea pot. That made things a lot more bearable.

4. I'm just putting it out here: you need more underwear.
I've wanted to buy some "travel" underwear for a while. You know: the easy-wash, quick-dry stuff you can take on vacation and wash up each evening. I figure, I'm getting tired of packing 20 pairs of undies to take a week long trip to Key West (hey, don't judge...), and 5 really washable pairs would take up less room. After spending this week waiting for a sunny-ish day to wash my unmentionables, this has risen to the top of my list.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: First Quarter, 2016

And we're back with another installment of "How Much Does a Garden Grow."  I've left this column alone for a quarter because there really wasn't much to report over the winter, but we are getting started now.

This is the season of expenditures, and thus far I've spent $53.78 on seed starting and plant orders.  I'll need lots more, of course, but this is a good start.

The interesting things is that I harvested 3 ounces of tomatoes from the plant I brought inside last fall.  I know I got about that much last year after harvest time too, proving that it is probably not worth it to purposely try to nurse a tomato plant through the winter in our climate.  However, if you have one in a container with fruit on it and a place to put it, like I did, it makes a fun diversion.

The beans did not fare so well over the winter, so I won't do that again, and the jury is still out on the pepper plants I brought inside.  They are looking rough, but they are alive.  We'll see if I manage to get them to come back this spring.

Otherwise, I have greens about ready to harvest, and I'm getting ready to plant peas in containers.  As you can see, the tomatoes are ready to be transplanted too.  So, the garden is seriously underway!


Total Expenditures: $53.78

Harvest: 3 oz./0.1875 lbs.
Harvest value: $0.75

Cumulative savings:  ($53.03)

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring in the Garden

Spring has finally sprung in the garden! I've withheld doing a tally of harvests and expenditures because there was not much to write home about during January and February, but March is full of promise:

  • The garage potatoes died due to an unexpected growth spurt in the warm fall, followed by vines that didn't make it through the winter. But you know how potatoes are. The existing planting could resprout, or I will add additional potatoes to the containers to start my 2016 crop. Regardless, Mr. FC&G moved the potato containers out to the makeshift cold frame a couple of weeks ago.
  • I started kale and spinach in the sunroom last month, and it has finally started to take off, as you can see from the picture at the right. Just a couple more weeks, I estimate, until I can start munching on the baby kale I love so much. That will make for some wonderful (and cheap!) lunches, as I've been craving a greens sandwich.
  • The peppers and tomatoes have sprouted and are under grow lights, trying to get big enough for their May and June plantings. We did have one literal misstep, when a tray broke and spilled tomato seedlings everywhere, but I managed to get them sorted out.

Next up:

  • Peas need to go into their container and then move outside as soon as we stop getting these ultra-cold nights.  I've learned from hard experience that I need to wrap them in hardware cloth to keep the critters from eating the luscious little sprouts.

So, finally we are on our way to a much-needed reduction in food budget around here for a season.

What's growing in your garden?
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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Growing from the Compost: Regrowing Garlic

One of the most popular posts on this blog is how to regrow romaine lettuce, and I understand why.  There's something magical about taking the scraps you thought you were throwing in compost and getting more food out of them.

Garlic is another of these foods that you can regrow from scrap.  A head of garlic regrows from a single clove; if you order garlic to plant in your garden, you will get a couple of heads of garlic that look very much like what you can buy in the store.

In fact, you can regrow from what you buy in the store, especially if you aren't particular about every clove being successful.  (If you are, definitely order seed garlic.)  What you see at the right is some garlic sprouts coming up from cloves that I could not use in cooking.

Have you ever had your garlic start to sprout on the kitchen counter?  It gets that little green tip and a little green "core" through the clove, and you might think you need to get rid of it?  You don't, actually, but if you judge that your clove is a bit greener than you like to use in cooking, just take a pot full of soil, stick the garlic clove in with the pointed end up (and what was part of the flat end of the head down), and let it go.

Garlic does not tend to get very "wide," so a single clove will make a head about as large as the original head you bought.  It also doesn't form too much of a root ball, making it ideal for pots.  I've put mine in some decorative pots as you can see here, but you can also put it in any old container or in the ground.

It will take several months for the garlic to form a head, but, in the meantime, you can carefully snip some of the sprout leaves off if you wish to use for some garlic flavor in your cooking.

And there you to!  Just one more project from the compost pile, turning waste into value.  My kind of thing!

Editors and bloggers:  If you would like a high-resolution file of this photo for your publication, click here or contact me directly for purchase.
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Monday, February 29, 2016

Why I'm Giving Up on Giving Up Sugar

(Yep, it's the same cookie picture as the last blog entry. Yes, I'm that lazy, but yes, there's a method to my madness.)

So, regular readers will know that this household has a sweet tooth bar none. We love our sugar around here. But, buying cookies (our favorite sugary indulgence) is expensive, not to mention the fact that store-bought cookies typically are full of HFCS and GMOs.

So, I thought we could curb our sugar intake and clean up what we do eat by making a rule that we have to bake any desserts we want to consume. I figured we would be sure we were consuming organic ingredients when we did indulge, and we'd have the power of pure laziness on our side creating cookie-free days when no one felt like baking. We'd be skinny and rich. Win/win.

Of course, I was seduced into thinking that this would be easy because of all of those people on Facebook. You know: your friends who never really liked sugar in the first place.  The ones who post annoyingly perky little status updates like, "After three days with no sugar, my cravings have completely gone away! And if I do want a snack, I just munch on a few kale chips!"

Who the heck goes three days without sugar, I ask you?

These are the people who write diet books. You know the books I mean. These are the books that say things like, "Whenever you are tempted by a bowl of ice cream, have an apple instead!" I'm not arguing that the sentiment is wrong, but I do think that the authors of statements like that have never actually had an ice cream craving. If they had, they would realize that one could eat bushels of apples - which are crisp and tart and have a satisfying crunch - and never make a dent in a craving for ice cream, which is smooth and cold and fatty. It's two different things, people.

But, I was seduced by the siren song of people who suggested that craving sugar was some sort of biological error. Their logic holds that human beings really don't need refined sugar, so within a couple of days, we will revert to our perfect paleo-selves and begin to heal from our addiction. Come to think of it, these are the same people who post those memes that compare the effect of sugar on the body to that of cocaine. As if mankind has ever come up with any drug that rivals sugar for me! Come over here, kid, I'll set you up with a Reese's Cup.  First one's free.

So anyway, our experiment has been at least partially successful. We have succeeded in shifting our sugar consumption to desserts made with organic ingredients and pasture-raised eggs that don't break our budget. We've also managed to improve our communication skills, as we now can have a complete debate about whose turn it is to bake just by giving one another significant looks.

But the sugar cravings have not stopped. Maybe that's because we never make it to the fabled three day mark when all desire for sugar magically disappears. Within 48 hours of being without homemade cookies, we're pretty much eating the chocolate chips out of the bag. Maybe we haven't found exactly the right apple that replicates ice cream or the right kind of kale chip that subs for a brownie.

Or maybe that's just the way we're wired. It's like giving up meat. I know I hate meat; I make myself eat it once a week for the protein, but if I had my druthers, I'd never touch another piece of it. It's this dislike that makes me reticent to call myself a vegetarian; it seems that I shouldn't get points for doing something that I want to do anyway. Maybe life would be easier if I had been born hating sweet stuff and loving prime rib.

But that's a subject for another day. If you need me, I'll be over here in the corner, eating my kale instead of beef and eagerly awaiting dessert. I'll also be writing my diet book, which will tell you how to curb your pulled pork cravings with a nice bowl of ice cream.
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