Saturday, June 21, 2014

Odds and Ends, and June Challenge Wrap-up

Okay, I am so incredibly messed up... This post was supposed to link up with Judy's June Prepping Challenge post about the Thermal Cookers. Obviously, I didn't make it. This makes me sad.  :(
I thought her post was very interesting, as I had no idea that they even made such a contraption as a thermal cooker. Although, I have come across something called a "Wonder Oven" during my wanderings through the internet, and now I think that those might be a homemade version of Judy's little cooker. They sound interesting. Maybe if I had more time to play around with such things, I might try it out. (Although, the solar oven sounds like more fun to me.) Some of the articles I've seen about Wonder Ovens even mention being able to make bread in them. Interesting. But I'm not sure it's interesting enough for me to experiment with. Unless, of course, for some reason my husband decides to buy me one of those things... ;)
Now, on to the odds and ends part of the post...
I finally got my bread made. Although, I didn't even attempt my regular recipe. Instead, I dusted off my copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I've had this book for a while, and when I have room in my fridge for that giant bowl, it's handy to have some of that dough just hanging around, waiting.  It took the very last bit of yeast I had in the house, but I managed to make the best loaf of bread I've ever achieved with that recipe. And it was very much enjoyed by all.
Close on the heels of that success, today I managed to make the worst ever loaf of bread I've ever attempted, with that very same dough. (Possibly the worst loaf ever, period.) And it was completely my fault. I forgot all about my (already extremely close to non-existent) time management skills and took the dough out of the fridge first thing this morning. It should have gone into the oven about the same time I looked at the clock and realized we should already be in the car! Little Miss had a birthday party to attend. We made it, just after the stated arrival time, and thankfully, she was not the last person to show up. Whew! So, then, Baby Girl and I raced off to the farmer's market, with only about an hour and a half before they closed shop for the day... We bought tons of yummy looking produce to go with what I managed to get out of our garden this morning. Now I just have to figure out exactly what I'm going to do with some of it. And I'm really wishing I had gotten more of that garlic. He said he won't be back for four weeks! Who would've thought I would manage to use 3/4 of what I bought today. Already! Anyway, back to the bread. It sat there on the counter the entire time we were gone- way too long! So, it's no wonder it turned out to be so disappointing. I might have to try again tomorrow, after we get back from the store. (I can't believe we're already out of milk again!)

This is just a cute picture of Baby Girl that I snapped yesterday evening at supper. All week long, I make a point of trying to put fruits and vegetables and healthy foods in front of them- when I could keep them out of the stinking snack foods (which are all gone now, yay!)- and this is what they decided to scarf down... And this is what Baby Girl considers the appropriate way to slurp the tomato dipping sauce out of the cup! It's a good thing she's so cute, is all...

And here are a couple of quick snaps of my afternoon activities for the day. This is where all my garlic went.  About the only thing doing really well in my garden at the moment- and not getting eaten up by that evil critter- are the pickle cucumbers. (Too spiky to chomp, I guess.)  Although, I did manage to scrounge out a few more things today, too. But not many.

 I'm very new at canning. I've only attempted it a couple of times last year, making jam/jelly. But I love dill pickles, and since we had the cucumbers for it, I tried a recipe from Food in Jars. Well... technically, it came from her book of the same name. I bought it on my kindle a while back. And now I'm going to need the hardcopy version, I can tell.
The recipe says that now I have the jars loaded, I have to wait an entire week, or more, before they're ready to taste. I guess I'll try to be patient. I do still have part of that jar of farmer's market pickles in the fridge... I can't wait to try these, and I really hope they're as awesome as they sound, because it's starting to look like the only substantial harvest I get from my pitiful little garden might be piles and piles of cucumbers. Next batch will be her recipe for bread and butter pickles, I think...

I couldn't believe how long it took to find such simple ingredients for them, though. I found everything I needed at my usual grocery store- except the dill seed. I never dreamed it would be so hard to find dill seed. The last time I ever bothered to notice it, it was a very common spice. Apparently not in this area. I had to go three different places before I finally found any. Boy, I hope these things are yummy! But, at least when I run out, I know exactly which store to go to now!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Aggraving, Stupid Chickens!!

So, I've been trying to free range my chickens in my yard a little bit. It's been going pretty well (except for one stupid girl who insisted on sleeping in a tree a few nights ago), with them staying in the backyard, not bothering anyone... Until today. Today, they decided to go roaming. (Grr...) 

We started off pretty well. All the bird-types just hanging out in the backyard (none of them seem to like the front yard much- which isn't the best thing, because I was hoping for a little help picking bugs out of my garden...), minding their own business. So, my girls and I went down to the Splash Pad near my father-in-law to play in the water with their cousins, and on the way back we stopped for groceries. When we pulled in to the driveway, I didn't see any of the birds, but I didn't worry about it because they like to hide under the back porch for some reason. I unloaded the car, got Baby Girl down for nap, and had just finished reading our chapter with Little Miss when... the doorbell rings.

So, I answer the door and the guy says, "Hello. Um... I have chickens in my front yard?" WHAT!??!! GRRR... Yep. Those rotten little things had gone right back into the back neighbor's yard. So, I went to round them up. Where'd they go? "They were right here just a second ago..." Then I hear it. A happy little clucking noise. Right down by the road! UGH!!

So, after herding and chasing and fussing (and threatening to put them in a pot) for half an hour, stepping in every stinking spider web in the state, and sweating buckets, I finally bribed the creepy things back into their run. Then I told them to consider themselves back in prison. For the foreseeable future. Or forever. Whichever it takes. I hate that, but I absolutely can't have them annoying the neighbors. I guess this means I'll be trying to figure out how to enlarge the run- again. I hate to keep them all locked up like that...  I just need a farm, that's all... Oh, well. At least the ducks stay in the yard like they're supposed to. I hope... :(

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June Prepping Challenge- Tuesday

It's Tuesday- the second day of June's prepping challenge over at Judy's Patchwork Times.  This month we're considering how we would cook food to feed our families if there happened to be a prolonged power outage, a subject of concern for anyone who has small children...

Today was one of those days when the kids refused to eat. They started snacking behind my back first thing in the morning and didn't seem to stop. (This is the biggest reason that snack foods are going to be removed from my house very soon. Most of them, anyway...) The only plus side to this is that Little Miss has begun automatically sharing the snacks with her little sister. I guess sharing is good. What isn't so good is the fact that every time I offered them food, they refused to eat it.

So, today would be very easy to do with no power. The only cooking done in the house was the leftovers I reheated for lunch. Needless to say, my bread didn't get made... Maybe tomorrow?

Supper was in a restaurant with my in-laws. Decent food, lovely company. :)  We ate grilled sandwiches, which would also not be too difficult with a cast iron skillet and a fire, so the only changes would be 1) we would've eaten them at home, and 2) we would've skipped the French fries that came with two of the plates. But the fruit cup would still have been simple, just all of us would've had them...

Judy's alternative cooking article today is on Dutch ovens. I mentioned yesterday that my husband has a couple. We also have a couple of cookbooks with recipes specifically designed for them. I haven't been able to try them out yet, but I plan to- soon. (I keep trying to organize a camping trip, but something always comes up. I think that would be the perfect excuse to play with them.) Eventually, my husband will be home from work long enough for one of us to wrestle the kids while the other plays with fire. ;) Either that, or the kids will both be old enough to allow me to get things done without hanging off my legs or falling into the fire pit... (Which is my biggest fear, really. They don't have enough fear of fire. They get that from their daddy- he seems to have slight pyro tendencies. This is why I can't burn candles in my house anymore. I miss my candles...)

Anyway, I love the Dutch ovens and I want to learn to use them so I have the excuse to get an entire set of them. They always remind me of the Laura Ingalls books I used to read when I was younger. (Can't wait to introduce my kids to them!) I'm glad that my husband wants to use them and is willing to learn with me (even if all he wants to make is chili). And with our woodpile, I think that this would make a reasonable cooking alternative if it ever becomes necessary. Now, I just need to practice!

I'm throwing these pictures in, just because I've been trying for weeks to get this little pucker face she makes. And because my husband's phone will not let him download the pictures we send him while he's at work...
                     So, here's Baby Girl and her cute little pucker. I have no clue why she does this.

                                                                    ...and again. :)

                                                    Little Miss also had to get in on it. :)

Monday, June 16, 2014

June Prepping Challenge- Monday

Life has been pretty boring around here for a while now. Boring is good, actually. Excitement, not always great.. The most exciting things that have happened lately are:
1) FINALLY getting a new heat pump!! So, now we have air conditioning again. (After being without for a little more than a month.) Which is pretty awesome. The kids are much happier, spoiled as they are, and I have to say that it's a relief to have it back. I've gotten extremely spoiled these last years, too. Only problem, now I'm freezing! The thermostat is set 5-6 degrees warmer than it used to be, but I'm still cold. I'm afraid to warm it up any more, though. The kids will start melting again. And then the whining will start up once more. Hopefully, I'll be re-acclimated before my husband comes home from work. Otherwise, I really will freeze when he kicks it back down to 70!

and 2) Today was the kick-off of the library's summer reading program. It was a lot of fun, the library was packed with kids, and with luck, everyone will read tons of books. My Little Miss has already gotten her week's quota in this afternoon and started on the extra credit... And I've taken it as a good opportunity to start chapter reading with her. She did really well, but I think one whole chapter at a time might be a bit much for now. We might have to try to read slightly less tomorrow. I think her attention started to wander a bit at the end...

In other news...

It's time for another prepping challenge from Judy at Patchwork Times... This month is a pretty easy one.  We aren't being asked to actually do anything- except think! Every day this week, while we go about trying to find some sort of food to feed everybody (hopefully finding something that everyone will eat without too many complaints), Judy wants us to take time to think about how we would go about feeding our families if our stoves didn't work.

In her post, Judy writes:
"Let’s assume that this is an unforeseen and extended event. You didn’t know it was coming (as opposed to a hurricane where you had warning). You just woke up one morning and the power was out. While I know that some of you rely on gasoline/diesel or natural gas powered generators, for the purpose of this challenge, let’s assume that  you have expended your supply of all the typical fuels and now we’re having to come up with alternate methods for cooking.
What I would like for you to do each day, is prepare your meal as planned,  using your stove and your power as you normally would, but think about and write about what you would have done differently with that meal if you were faced with a no power situation."

This is a topic that has been on my mind for a long time. Having little ones (picky little ones, at that!), I tend to get a bit worried about power outages. I've been thinking on this problem for a while now, with no real solutions forthcoming. (But I do have a very long wish list, and my husband can vouch for that. He hears about it any time bad weather is predicted. Well, okay, frequent other times, as well...) As a result, our house tends to have a lot of snacky-type foods sitting around. Which causes problems for me now that I'm trying to make (radical?) changes in the way we cook and eat around here...

Today's menu wasn't really great by any standard other than that I actually managed to get everyone sitting at the table simultaneously to eat something. (Not the same thing, note.) But, sitting at the table together is a goal of mine, so I'm happy that we at least got that to work for us. Today, anyway...

Breakfast- everybody had cold cereal, with or without milk, as requested. (Although, both of them were snacking on peanut butter crackers before I had even managed to get my brain awake this morning...)

Lunch- they had mini pop-tarts and I ate a tuna cracker lunch pack...

Supper- I fixed pasta and tomato sauce, specifically because I knew they would eat it. They didn't eat it. :( I just can't win.

I've been thinking about it all day, and I don't see a lot of changes I would have made in this admittedly crappy menu to make it power outage friendly. The only thing that got cooked was supper. Everything else is manageable with no power. As for supper... With no stove, I would first move to the grill on the back deck. If we've used up all the propane there, the next move is my little portable camp/emergency stove. I have several days worth of fuel for it, that would see me through very basic cooking. For any longer time, right now, I would be forced to build a fire in my backyard to cook over. My husband has two Dutch ovens specifically for fire cooking, and we also have cast iron skillets I could put into play if necessary. We have a stockpile of firewood to use in that case (because my hubby has weird hobbies and likes to play with chainsaws- fortunately), so we would be okay for maybe a week? Maybe more. Not sure, as I have very little experience playing with fire. (I should probably be working on that.)

I do eventually want to get a solar oven to play with. I think they sound like fun. My husband doesn't like the idea, as he claims we don't get enough sunlight during the day to make it work properly...

Tomorrow will be more of a challenge. Maybe. If I'm allowed into the kitchen without anyone hanging from my leg screaming at the top of her little lungs, I plan to make some bread. Fingers crossed!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sad. And Confused.

We had a rough weekend here. We lost two of our sweet Easter babies- Quacky and Little Bit. The oldest and the youngest (although only separated by about 48 hours, total) and also our favorites of the bunch. :(
I have no idea what happened. They seemed completely healthy and happy, just like the other three. There was no sign of injury. No mark on them. They just went to bed Friday night as usual and didn't wake up Saturday morning. My husband found them when he went to let everyone out of lockup for the night. I'm confused about what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. I spent most of the weekend worrying that the others would suddenly suffer the same fate. So far, they seem perfectly healthy and content. I hope it continues.
The remaining three did seem a little confused about the whereabouts of their yellow friends. But now they seem more confused that we moved the duck house out of the corner we originally had it in. We moved it because we were afraid there was some sort of plant or something that Quacky and Little Bit might have gotten into. Although, I sort of doubt that. There wasn't anything green left near them. I would have expected ill effects much sooner if a plant had been responsible.
We let them out into the yard for a while Saturday. It seemed to distract them from looking for the other two. They splashed and played for quite a while. It looked like fun, actually.
They've grown a lot since the last photos I took. They're almost the same size now, and all of their baby features have disappeared. No clue which is really which now, I've just been randomly calling out names at them. They don't seem to mind. For now, the one in back is Heartie, and the one in the very front is Stripe. Spot seems to have lost all identifying marks. Still waiting to figure out for sure boys and girls. All I know is that all three of them still seem to have a nice loud quack when they deem it necessary. (One of the books I read said that only the females can actually quack. I choose to see this as a good sign. My husband really wants some duck eggs...)

I'm rereading my books and looking online for hints as to what might have happened. Until then, I suppose I'll continue to be a bit worried about my three remaining Easter babies. And also possibly the chickens, although they don't seem to be suffering any ill health either. I think I'm just completely paranoid now...