A Tour of the Back 40…I mean, 1.9

To those who have messaged me today, wondering where today’s post is, forgive the delay.  My husband is home.  ‘Nuff said, I know, but he is applying for jobs through the trucking school he’s about to complete.  Somehow I have become the family tech guru when I don’t even know what I’m doing most of the time here in the blogosphere.  Sitting and writing have been tough as I have been pulled in that direction all morning.  Men are kind of cute when they are helpless.

I have to say with great pride that, rather than asking me to go back to work (which I would totally do), Jamie’s always ready to do what it takes to provide for this family.  That may sound old-fashioned and is something I would have scoffed at ten years ago, but it is a gift in my forties.  It’s hard not to love the old curmudgeon.

Anyway, this morning it occurred to me, as I prepared to post the beloved Salisbury Steak recipe after much pleading from my youngest, that I hadn’t really given you the tour of the homestead.  I suppose I should show you around, so I maybe I can earn some street cred.

A little history on my evolution:

We purchased our first house in the Spring of 2005; a new construction with 35 acres on the Front Range in Colorado.  Our nearest neighbor was over 1/4 mile away and the solitude was nice, but when the urge to garden hit me, I was powerless to satisfy it.  The dry, high climate allowed for little to grow besides prickly pear and the rattlesnakes almost killed my husband (not from biting, but from scaring the crap out of him).  The wind was so bad sometimes that we couldn’t go outside for days and stir crazy was never far away.  Then there were the rabbits.  Zillions of them would invade all day, every day.  When I planted something and a seedling finally sprouted, those little monsters would immediately eat it.  Because of their appetites and the diseases they transmit, we tried fencing; electric and livestock, repellents, our dogs, and more, all to no avail.  I finally gave up, but luckily, the view helped to ease our pain.

Front Range
View of the Front Range from my parents’ house, about 4 miles south of our old place.

Jamie was working 6 hours away, near Grand Junction, Colorado and we had just gotten the boys.  He would be home for a week, then gone for two and it quickly became clear that the boys needed a dad home every night, so we sold our house and moved close to his rig.

We purchased a home on 6 acres near Delta, brought the horses and settled in quickly.  We loved it from the beginning, even though we had neighbors (not too close) for the first time in years, it still felt private.  We were on a plateau, surrounded by mountains, with the Grand Mesa in our sight.  It felt like we were living on vacation: fishing, camping, hiking, swimming, skiing, etc. all within 5-20 minutes from our home.

The best part was the boys reaping the benefits of having Jamie home every night.  That really solidified us as a family and they blossomed in that environment.  A huge surprise was how wonderfully my garden there did.  We planted a lot of different veggies, ate our fill, but I off-loaded cucumbers and tomatoes by the grocery sack full daily at work.  It was, in a word, awesome.

Mesa

A view from the top of the Mesa in Spring.  Our house was almost straight ahead, at the end of those foothills.  Sigh. 

Sadly, oil and gas tanked and money was getting tighter.  I’d spent 8 years working for the family business, but was very part time because of the kids and there were no jobs available in a 100 square mile radius of us.

We ended up moving to Louisiana to follow the work and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Nothing against Louisiana, but there were so many memories packed into such a short time; the adoption, friends and the vast beauty and peace of it all.  We had to find homes for our two rescue horses and rescue miniature donkey, store our belongings and then live in our camper for a while until we got our feet back under us.

Poncho
This is my beloved Poncho Villa, the only one who would let the kids ride and who would often go house to house around our pasture, calling to neighbors until they brought him treats.  I admit to sobbing like a baby when he left. 

We lived in a couple of rentals until we were able to buy a place with about three acres, very much in the country, in the small town where my father grew up.  It was a tiny house; 2 bedrooms (I had to shimmy around the bed because our room was so freaking small), 1 bathroom and was right around 1000 square feet.  Tight for someone who was getting into domestic hobbies and amassing  wide range of tools for said hobbies.

It was here that I started to learn canning, gardening, plumbing and more.  I tried my hand at a massive raised bed garden, having only moderate success.  We had lots of pecan and citrus trees, so I learned to process and bake with our bounty.

catahoula garden
My beautiful garden where I learned all the evils of growing things in Louisiana, fighting every possible pest imaginable. 

We had plans drawn up for an addition, but could never find a builder to agree to come out and do the work.  It was too remote for some, and things were too busy for others.  We sold the house to a neighbor’s son and bought a place closer to town, in a neighborhood with large lots, but actual neighbors.  It was strange, yet we’ve learned to love it because we actually have great neighbors.  Whew.  And I won’t lie, being two miles from the grocery store was new to me, a fantastic convenience, but sometimes a curse.  Best of all, I’ve only had to deal with one snake here, as opposed to the countless snakes at the other house.  Win!!

Charles
Our current place and, yes, I’m still painting the garage.

We knew we needed a pool because both Jamie and I are not fans of humidity and the boys needed a way to burn summer energy.  The place we bought was at a great price with a little land and a pool, but it was a bit of a fixer upper.  At 1.9 acres, it was not wide open space, but land is strangely hard to come by down here, so it would do just fine.

Luckily, I am ADHD and was able to get right to work updating and fixing, accomplishing a ton in the last year and a half.  I’ll bore you with the details later because I know this post is approaching long novel territory, so a quick tour of the new digs will wrap things up for today.  I hope it’s a great one for you all!

Homestead
The yard

 

Garden
The garden and greenhouse. Yes, I gave up on weeding after the stink bugs, slugs and all manner of plague drove me away, but I’m starting again.
rain barrel
Our rain collection for the greenhouse
Coop
The chicken coop my husband ingeniously built onto our existing shed.  Almost done.
Nesting closed
The nesting boxes
Nesting
The door is hinged so egg collection is a breeze!

 

 

 

 

Organizing is my game

Solving the Utensil Dilemma

We all know that half of the battle in the kitchen, or anywhere in life really, is staying organized.  I’ve been a bit OCD about this for the last few years, which you are bound to pick up on if you stick with me on this journey.  With as much kitchen gadgetry as I have, it’s vital to have a place for everything.  My poor husband and boys have had to deal with many a kitchen (and whole-house) rearranging, but I am a slave to efficiency in my old age (tee-hee), so they just have to deal.

Since I have made it my personal mission to learn how to make many things myself the last few years, I usually have at least one recipe going from scratch at any given time.  This, as you may guess, uses up a lot of utensils, measuring cups and spoons and since I hate washing dishes, I need a lot of back ups.  Also, this house is due for a major kitchen overhaul, starting with drawers that are, I kid you not, less than three inches deep.  Not even deep enough to hold a ladle.  Thankfully, on one of my pilgrimages to IKEA (it’s about 4 hours away and is my happy place), I was struck with inspiration.

I decided to get all of my most oft used tools and organized them in an easy to reach fashion. so first, I purchased a curtain hanging system, and though its sounds odd, it’s perfect for utensils.

Utencils

The kit comes with the anchors, wire and clips and is incredibly easy to install with just a tape measure and a drill.  I hung it above and to the rear of my stove where I can easily grab what I need and this makes things much more simple when my boys unload the dishwasher.  No more, “MOM!  Where does this go?” and if that does happen, my reply can be, “Did you forget how to read, my gifted child?”  Yes, I’m afraid my sarcasm spills over into my parenting.  It was inevitable.

Here’s the link to the product:

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/60075295/

I feel like I have to add that I normally don’t have cardboard blocking the area between my kitchen and living room, but the back light from the sun through the windows was too bright not to block out for a picture.

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Measuring Cups and Spoons Set Free From Messy Drawer Bondage!

My second idea is even easier, born out of desperation because I really needed somewhere for my measuring cups and spoons, kitchen scissors and other miscellaneous tools.  With the utensil holder working nicely, I started looking for other places to hang the essentials.

Under my low-hung cabinets where things like coffee pots and Kitchenaid mixers don’t fit was a perfect place to start.  I simply took a 1″ X 2″ piece of strapping and cut it to the length I needed to fit under my cabinets, spraying it with red Rustoleum 2X paint.  Yeah, I’m on a red kick lately.

Boards
The 1×2 is on your right and the 2×4 on the left for size comparison.

When the paint was dry, I measured and put a mark every 2 inches, then drilled a small hole, twisting in one of these little hooks found at most hardware, grocery and even dollar stores:

Hooks
Any size you need will work.

I then added labels (Did I mention that I am a wee bit OCD?) so that I could keep them in order and the non-OCD trio with which I live could empty the dishwasher without going insane.

Measuring close up

The end result is awesomely efficient!  My kids can put things in their place (the husband hasn’t quite figured it out yet) and I know exactly where to grab what I need without digging in a messy drawer.  This also helps the boys when I’m teaching them to cook things and is a good excuse to play with the panoramic camera on my phone.

Measuring

So there you have it for today.  Easy steps that make a huge difference.

 

40 Minute Burger Buns

It was sloppy joe night at our house and I realized that I didn’t have any hamburger buns.  Calling on the power of Google, I found the following recipe and they were delicious!  You can easily change the size and number of buns you make and I chose to do 8 larger buns for my crew.  They were almost too big, but still awesome.  I didn’t have sesame seeds, so I did the egg wash and used roasted garlic salt.  Thanks, Girl vs. Dough!  Hamburger Buns

These are the 8  that I made.  Don’t judge my ability to eyeball equal portions. 

40-Minute Super Soft Hamburger Buns
AUTHOR: ADAPTED FROM TASTE OF HOME
PREP TIME:  30 MINS
COOK TIME:  10 MINS
TOTAL TIME:  40 MINS
YIELDS: 12 BUNS
INGREDIENTS
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (110 to 115 degrees F)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and shaping
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons milk (for egg wash)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray 2 baking sheets with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk yeast into warm water until dissolved. Add sugar and oil; let stand 5 minutes. Add egg, flour and salt. Use a wooden spoon to stir until just combined.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand 3 to 5 minutes, adding more flour to dough as needed until a smooth, soft, elastic and only slightly sticky dough forms.
  4. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces*; shape each piece into a smooth ball. Place buns at least 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets (6 buns per sheet). Cover buns with tea towels or lightly greased plastic wrap; let rest 10 minutes.
  5. Uncover buns and brush tops with egg wash; sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, until buns are golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  6. *NOTE: This recipe makes 12 small slider-size buns. For larger buns, simply divide dough into fewer pieces and increase the baking time.

40-minute super soft hamburger buns

Lighten up, Francis

I think I need a laugh and I hope this brings you one…

I’m raising two boys and they have totally made me rethink my stance on in-home urinals.  Next house, we’re getting one.  My guys are in charge of cleaning their own bathroom, including the toilet, which is terrifying at times.

Lately, we are having a major backslide in our bathroom etiquette and nothing seems to be correcting it, so last night I designed the following poster.  It currently hangs over the back of their toilet and I’ll let you know if it works.  And, yes, I accidentally erased a comma.

toilet scare

 

Easy Sandwich Bread

If you are like me, you enjoy a good sandwich now and then, but finding the perfect bread can be challenging.  Okay, that’s a bit melodramatic and, truth be told, right now it’s all about saving money for those of us living in regions dependent on oil and gas.

Anyway, homemade bread is hard to beat and a bread machine makes things so easy!  My only issue with bread machine bread (almost started shortening that to BM, but I caught it just in time), is that it can be so huge.  I made a loaf last week and it was delicious, but you could have surfed the Gold Coast on a slice of that baby.

I found this gem of a recipe and love that you can have the bread machine (snicker) do the hard part for you.  I set mine to “Dough,” then when it was ready, I threw it into a longer loaf pan and finished it in the oven.  Fantastic!

Without further ado…

Here’s my picture, with this awesome bread slicer I got on Amazon.com for around $11.

sandwich bread and slicer

Sadly, you will be unable to use this bread as a life raft, as you could with its predecessors.

Extremely Soft White Bread (Bread Machine)

Photo

Photo by Julie P.

  • Prep Time: 0 mins
  • Total Time: 25 mins
  • Yield: 1 Loaf

About This Recipe

“This is the softest white bread I have ever baked. It was sent to me via email and I cannot remember who sent it. This is the only recipe I use for white bread.”

Ingredients

    • 1 cup hot water
    • 2 teaspoons yeast
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 3 cups white flour

Directions

  1. Put your hot water, yeast and sugar in your bread machine. Let stand 6-12 minutes depending on the temp of your water. Your yeast will foam.
  2. Add remaining ingredients.
  3. Use rapid or basic white cycles.
  4. Or bake for 25 minute @ 350.

NUTRITION FACTS

Serving Size: 1 (718 g)

Servings Per Recipe: 1

Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value
Calories 2019.0
 
Calories from Fat 529
26%
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value
Total Fat 58.7g
90%
Saturated Fat 7.7g
38%
Cholesterol 0.0mg
0%
Sugars 38.7 g
Sodium 2344.5mg
97%
Total Carbohydrate 327.2g
109%
Dietary Fiber 12.2g
49%
Sugars 38.7 g
154%
Protein 41.9g
83%

Channeling my inner Martha (Salsa and Peeling tomatoes the easy way)

For the last two weeks I have been having my rear end kicked by the mother of all sinus infections, but yesterday I decided I’d had enough.  After the drunk driver took out our front fence on Saturday night, I had a tough time sleeping and woke up with zero energy on Sunday, feeling that sinus pressure trying to kill me.  I resigned myself to working through the pain and being productive.  This was not the smartest idea, but it felt really good in the end to accomplish something besides blowing my nose and waiting for death.

Three things found their way onto Sunday’s agenda; baking sandwich bread, making salsa and making buns for sloppy joes.  All three recipes are fantastic and beg to be shared.

There is something amazing about creating food from scratch with your own hand and watching people enjoy it.  If you had told me ten years ago that I would be into this sort of thing, I likely would have laughed in your face.  I was a career woman on the rise and not terribly interested in being domestic.  Yet, here I am and I’m happy with the way things are turning out.

Let’s start with the salsa.  This is a recipe passed to me by my brother-in-law and it will ruin you for all other salsa.  I’m sorry, but I have to be honest.  The recipe is all over the internet, so neither of us can claim it, but whoever you are, Annie, you are a genius!

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Salsa after

 I call this “Finished product under Van Gogh Who”

ANNIE’S SALSA

8 cups tomatoes, peeled, chopped and drained (see peeling idea below)

2-1/2 cups onion, chopped

1-1/2 cups green pepper, chopped

3 – 5 jalapenos, chopped

6 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/8 cup canning salt

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup 5% apple cider vinegar (I like to do 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup lime juice for taste.  Personal preference rules, as long as it adds up to one cup)

2 cups (16 oz.) tomato sauce

2 cups (16 oz.) tomato paste

Mix all ingredients, bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Pour into hot pint jars leaving 1/2″ headspace, seal and process in a boiling water canning bath for 15 minutes.

Makes about 6-7 pints.

Additional altitude and other fantastic information can be found at:

http://faq.gardenweb.com/discussions/2766092/annies-salsa-recipe

Salsa before It’s even pretty before you cook it!

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Easy peel tomato method

So, if you’re like me, prep is 90% of the battle when it comes to creating your culinary masterpieces.  I’m not a fan of messes or back pain, so fewer dishes, nicks, burns and bruises, with less time on my feet, are ideal.

Many people like to blanch their tomatoes and I do this sometimes myself, but for this salsa in particular, I really like to have that hint of roasted flavor and it’s so easy to do.

  1. Place your oven’s top rack about 6 inches from the heating element and turn on the broiler.
  2. Slice your tomatoes in half, taking the core first, if you wish (this makes things a little less messing in the end) and place them face down on a cookie sheet.  You can cram them on, as long as you only place them in a single layer.
  3. Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes.  The skin will start to crack and even darken a bit, but once you smell roasting tomato, remove the pans and cool.
  4. Simply pinch the skin and it will come right off.  There will be a lot of liquid, as with most jobs involving tomatoes, so a colander over the sink and a towel or two are a good idea.

Roast tomato

Oh, the aroma!

Why the nerd?

When I reached my early to mid thirties, something wonderful happened; all we Star Wars fans, Trekkies, Browncoats, etc. became cool almost overnight.  No longer did we have to live in the shadows, reading our comics or graphic novels under blankets with flashlights for fear of being called out as nerds.  We always knew we were hip, but now the world knew too.

I remember seeing Star Wars for the first time on the big screen in Bangladesh and being completely floored.  I was only 8 at the time, yet I remember feeling like the sixties put us on the moon, but George Lucas opened up the entire universe to me.  As I got older, my girlfriends had their Barbies and My Little Pony, but I had my Wonder Woman Underoos and Star Wars action figures, with a few Barbies on the side to play minor roles.

Fast forward to 2004 when I was a newlywed married to an ex-jock who loved Hoosiers, Bull Durham and the like (all fine films, btw!), yet I still kept what I thought of as my “Dark Side” a secret.  It wasn’t an Earth shattering secret, but I grew up in a world where boys read comics and girls read Sweet Valley High.  Slowly I was able to initiate Star Wars marathons, Superman binges, Firefly weekends, etc., but, yes, my husband teased me a bit.

I guess I need to thank Marvel for paving the way to acceptance and harmony in my marriage.  After Iron Man, I had nerd “street cred” with my man.  After Guardians of the Galaxy, I had a partner.

If you knew my husband, you would know why the above photo is amazing.  This guy never even dressed with me for Halloween and here we are at a local Comic Con with him as Jayne Cobb and me as Batmom (she spends all her time dressing the kids and husband, leaving only scraps for her own costume).

These days I spend most of my time canning, gardening, building things to organize my life and introducing my two boys to the wonders of imagination through sci-fi books and film.  I love it all.