Growing and Learning…

Tiny sprouts…

As I wrote in my very first blog we are in the newbie stage of homesteading, and gardening is one that we are definitely learning from. Our first garden last year was not a success story. Our lettuce grew amazing, but honestly that was about it. I could have easily been defeated, but instead I tried to figure out where I went wrong. This year I am going to be smart about it (well…lol). First, I am picking seeds that I know will grow best in our climate. Secondly, I’m not putting dozens of a seed in each hole (I know…I hang my head in shame) so they have room to grow. Finally, I’m learning not to over/under water. I am going to start with baby steps, and not the gigantic leap I took last year.

I started an indoor herbal garden a couple of weeks ago, and the seeds are already sprouting! I made sure I planted the right amount of seeds, and spaced them properly. I have planted Parsley, Basil, Cilantro, Scallions, Chives, and Dill. I am looking forward to fresh herbs, and being able to pull them right out of the garden! There is something so amazing about the taste and freshness.

My herb garden that my husband and son made…

What have I learned about gardening? More importantly, what have I learned from my mistakes (which is how we all learn)? I have been making sure I do my research, so I am more prepared this year. I am enjoying the process, instead of rushing and being impatient. Here are some tips I learned for beginner gardeners:

đŸ„•Make sure that you plant in a sunny location. My herb garden is placed by our dining room window that gets light from all sides. Most of the vegetables you plant need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Some leafy ones can tolerate some shade.

đŸ„•Plant in well-drained soil. If the soil is too wet that means you will get wet roots, which in turn makes rotted roots. A raised bed works well for drainage. If you don’t do a raised bed, make sure you till and remove any rocks, because that will interfere with root growth.

đŸ„•Plant where there is not a lot of foot traffic, or that is prone to flooding (we had areas that flooded).

đŸ„•Start small! That is what I didn’t do, and over seeded on top of that. Plant what you know your family will eat.

đŸ„•Plan out your garden. What will you plant? How many rows do you need? How long will it be? Did you leave room in between rows for you to be able to access them? What vegetables grow well in your climate?

Some of the easiest vegetables to grow:

đŸŒ±Lettuce (YES!)

đŸŒ±Green Beans

đŸŒ±Radishes

đŸŒ±Carrots

đŸŒ±Tomatoes

đŸŒ±Peppers

đŸŒ±Spinach

đŸŒ±Kale

đŸŒ±Chard

đŸŒ±Peas

What would you add? What other tips do you have for beginners? Again, enjoy the process. Gardening can be very therapeutic, and you gain lots of fresh vegetables and fruits! Remember…learn as you grow!

There’s a Chicken in my Pie…

During the winter, sometimes hearty is just the perfect thing. We love items you can prepare ahead of time, and this is a perfect recipe to do just that! Since we have a large family, we double the recipe, and we still have leftovers! It’s a versatile recipe, and you can add whatever you would like to it to make it your own!

Ingredients

2 cups cubed cooked chicken

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 2/3 cup frozen mixed vegetables, thawed

1 egg beaten

1 cup of bisquick

1/2 cup milk

1 pinch of salt

Pepper to taste

*I also add minced garlic, oregano, and diced onions to mine. You can make it as bland or spicy as you would like!

Directions

Combine chicken soup, vegetables, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Spread evenly into a 9-inch pie plate.

In another bowl mix the egg, milk, and Bisquick just until moistened.

Pour over the chicken mixture.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Serve with a nice tossed salad full of leafy greens!

Enjoy!

Crust, Crust Baby…

Like most families we love pizza, but when you have a large family, it can get rather expensive to get take-out, so we started making our own! The dough, besides all the gooey cheese and delicious toppings, is the most important part, and you know that making any kind of dough can be tricky. It took us a few hits and misses to find one that is easy and works well, but we did! If you are a pizza fanatic, it might work for you too!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups lukewarm water (between 105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 1/4 cups bread flour (you can also use all-purpose flour)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  • In your mixer (or in a large bowl if kneading by hand)) add warm water, then add the yeast and sugar, let it sit for 5 minutes, then stir to combine. 
  • Add the olive oil, flour and salt. Using the hook attachment, start to mix on low speed, and then raise to medium speed and knead for approximately 5 minutes or until you have a smooth elastic dough (scrape the hook halfway through kneading and the sides of bowl if needed).  
  • If mixing by hand add the olive oil, flour, and salt, and then mix with a fork until the dough comes together. On a lightly floured surface knead dough until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
  • Place in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Place a clean towel over it and put in a warm place to rise (about 2 hours)
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • After dough has risen, punch it down a few times.
  • Divide into 2 or 3 balls (depending on how big you want your pizza) and let rest for about 20 minutes.
  • Lightly oil pizza pans or cookie sheets and fit dough into shape using your clean hands.
  • Add your favorite cheese and toppings and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until crust is golden.

The crust comes out thin and crispy (be on the lookout for another favorite dough recipe that comes out thicker)! It’s a great meal to have while playing games, watching movies, or just sitting and talking! Enjoy!

When the Storm Comes…

We live in a very hurricane prone area. In the past five years we have had six, including Florence. We only started preparing AFTER the devastation of Florence, but then again the way we live changed drastically after that. How do you prepare, not just for hurricanes, but whatever may happen (as we have learned this past year with the coronavirus)? You make a list. Yes, a list. What would you need to survive one week, two weeks, three months…

Food-You should always have a supply of at least two weeks worth of food. That includes canned foods (meats, vegetables, fruits), oatmeal, rice, soup, peanut butter, instant mashed potatoes, powdered milk, granola bars, Gatorade, juices, and, of course, water (that is one gallon of water, per person, per day)! *Part of the reason we are building our homestead, is so we can have fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk. You should still have a two-week (3 months preferred) of an emergency stockpile. (You can also refer to a previous post I did about our prepper pantry Preparing for Anything
 )

Supplies– Flashlights and lanterns, candles, batteries, hand-cranked radio, first-aid kit, bug out bag (which will be in a later blog), manual can opener, flares (or a whistle), battery powered or solar powered phone charger, masks, maps, tools in case you need to turn utilities off or board up windows, garbage bags, sleeping bags, unscented bleach (a great disinfectant and can also be used to treat drinking water), raft for areas of extreme flooding (flash floods can spring up anywhere), matches in a waterproof container, fire extinguisher, gasoline cans, and a generator (always assume you will lose power).

Essentials– Baby items (food, formula, and diapers), feminine products, change of clothes for each person, important family documents placed in a waterproof container, eyeglasses and contact lenses, prescription medications (try to have a three month supply), non-prescription medication, pet food and medication, cash, mess kits (plates, cups, forks, spoons, and knives), books, games, puzzles, pens, pencils, and paper.

We never know what may come. Whether it’s a storm, natural disaster, loss of employment, terrorism, a pandemic, anything. It is not too late to start preparing. Start with the above list, modify and add to it to fit you and your family’s needs.

There’s Cheese in My Cake…

My kids pick a different sweet for their birthdays. Sometimes it’s a regular good old fashioned cake, other times it can be a cookie cake, ice cream cake, cannoli’s, or my son’s favorite-cheesecake!! He takes after me, and I am rather picky when it comes to finding or making a good one. This one fits the bill, and is a favorite in our house. Maybe it will become on of yours too!

Ingredients

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs 
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 7 Tablespoons melted butter

Cheesecake

  • 32 oz. cream cheese softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 2/3 cups sour cream 
  • 1 œ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs that are room temperature and lightly beaten

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 325F
  • Prepare graham cracker crust by combining graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and brown sugar. Stir well. Add melted butter and use a fork to combine ingredients.
  • Pour crumbs into a 9” springform pan and press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of your pan. Set aside.

Cheesecake

  • In a stand mixer (you can also use a hand-mixer) add cream cheese and mix until smooth and creamy (don’t over-beat).
  • Add sugar and mix until creamy.
  • Add sour cream, vanilla extract, and salt. Mix until well-combined. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl periodically.
  • On low speed, gradually add lightly beaten eggs, one at a time. Mix until each egg is incorporated. After eggs have been added, use a spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl again and make sure all ingredients are combined.
  • Pour cheesecake batter into prepared springform pan. You should also line a cookie sheet with foil to prevent any leakage.
  • Put on the center rack and bake at 325F for about 75 minutes. Edges will likely have slightly puffed and may have just begun to turn a light golden brown and the center should spring back to the touch. Don’t over-bake or the texture will crack and get tough.
  • Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. After cooling use a knife to loosen the edges.
  • Cool for another 1-2 hours or until room temperature before putting in the refrigerator. Best if cooled overnight, but at last 4 hours.

Enjoy!

Gardening Away The Stress…

Photo by www.zanda. photography on Unsplash

Gardening not only benefits you by bringing delicious fresh fruits and vegetables to your table, but also is good for your body, mind, and soul. Your well-being is important. Why not see what a bit of gardening can do to help you stay calm, happy, and healthy? Here are just some of the benefits gardening can give you:

đŸŒ» It is great for heart health! All the digging, planting, and weed pulling not only burns calories, but strengthens your cardiovascular system!

đŸŒ» It can help reduce depression, anxiety, and stress. In a world full of unknowns, stress is a major factor and is known to cause many diseases and illnesses. It is important to find something that brings you joy, as well as something that keeps your mind occupied.

đŸŒ» It’s something the whole family can do, and that means spending time together! You can talk, laugh, and share while you create a beautiful garden that will provide for you all!

đŸŒ» The sun! Being out in the sun not only lifts your spirits, but gives you that much needed vitamin D that helps strengthen your bones! However, don’t forget to put on your sunscreen!

đŸŒ» It teaches patience. We started our first garden last year and it didn’t go as planned. Instead of getting aggravated, we learned from those mistakes!

The list of benefits are endless. Not only are you creating food for your families, you are creating a healthier mind, body, and soul!

Give Me That (Corn)bread…

We live in the southeast, but we still get some cold winter days, and this cornbread sure hits the spot! I used to make cornbread in a baking dish, but I will never go back after using the cast iron skillet! My daughter was the first to try it, and it was delicious! The sweetness of the cornbread is perfect, and not only does it go good with chili, but for a snack as well!

Iron Skillet Cornbread Recipe:

  • 3/4 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1/3 Cup Sugar
  • 3 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 3/4 Teaspoons Sea Salt
  • 1 and 1/4 Cup Milk
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Place rack in the center of the oven and heat to 425 degrees. Butter a 12 inch cast iron skillet, and put the skillet in the oven while it heats.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix well.
  3. Add the milk, and butter. Stir until mixed.
  4. Once the skillet is hot, carefully remove it from the oven. Pour in the batter. Bake until the cornbread is deeply browned, about 15-20 minutes.
  5. Serve hot with butter

*You can also omit the sugar and drizzle honey over it after it is done baking

You can also try it with a nice cup of tea or coffee!

Reuse and Recycle…

We all have items that we say we are going to use, but they just end up sitting there collecting dust and probably spiders. We don’t want that, so let’s put some of those to good use! You can use just about anything that you have laying around the house, but they’re probably mostly in the garage, attic, or basement. Our family has started to become more thrifty and trying to use items we already have rather than spending money on something, or throwing it out. This past weekend my husband and son built a backstop so they can shoot their bows and crossbows. Everything they used (except the haybales) were from things we had around the house…even that old rug!

Let’s look into some uses for familiar items we have!

Old sheets. We always keep them, thinking we will use them, but they just sit there all lonely. Here are some great uses:

Reusable cleaning towels

A braided style rug

A dog toy

Smocks for the kids

An apron

A tote bag

Old comforters…I am guilty of having bins of these, because I think I will use them. I am usually wrong. Uses:

A dog or cat bed

Bring it to the beach to lay on

A sleeping bag

A play mat

Forts! You can’t go wrong with those no matter your age!

Glass jars or containers. We have plenty of both, especially disinfectant wipe containers. Instead of putting them in the recycling bin, think about their many uses. You can:

Sort your seeds

Sort your nails

Use them for canning

Flower vases

Store crayons

Store closepins

Store hair ties and barrettes

Store pens and pencils

Old clothing. Socks, jeans, and t-shirts all hold useful purposes!

Socks:

Dusting

Polishing cars

Eraser for white boards

Shine shoes

T-shirts:

Make a quilt, especially out of ones that hold special meaning

Pillow cases

Towels (especially for hair)

Art smock

Old Jeans. Raise your hand if you have had many throughout the years! There are some great uses for them!

Denim rug

Coasters

Placemats

A Quilt

A bag

As you can see there are MANY uses for what is laying around your home, and the list goes on and on. Be creative! Find uses for something before you throw it out, or before letting a spider make its new home. There is beauty in reusing and recycling!

Blueberry Goodness…

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

I love comfort food. Always have. This baked blueberry french toast casserole makes your insides all warm and fuzzy! I made it the first time a few years ago for Easter breakfast and it has been a favorite in our home since then. It’s easy to make and even better that it sits overnight so you just need to throw it in the oven in the morning!

Ingredients

  • 1 large loaf of french bread (homemade is best, but store bought tastes just as good)
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries (I have also used frozen, but make sure to toss them in a little bit of flour so they don’t bleed)
  • 1 8 oz. package cream cheese, cubed (you can freeze it for a bit beforehand for easier cutting)
  • Sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top

Blueberry Sauce

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups blueberries

Instructions

Butter a 9 x 13 casserole dish

Cut french bread into 2 inch cubes and place in a bowl

In a large bowl combine eggs, half and half, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and salt  

Whisk until completely mixed

Put one half of bread cubes in dish

Top with half of the cream cheese cubes and half a cup of blueberries

Add remaining bread cubes and top with remaining cream cheese and additional half cup of blueberries

Pour egg mixture over the bread cubes, be sure to press the bread down so it is completely soaked by the egg mixture

Cover and store in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (overnight is best)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Remove cover and sprinkle casserole with sugar

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes

Remove foil and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until center is firm and bread is slightly brown on top

Cool slightly and serve with the blueberry sauce

Blueberry Sauce

In small saucepan, combine sugar, water and cornstarch until simmering

Add blueberries and simmer for 10 minutes  

Using a fork or whisk, slightly break up the blueberries

*The casserole can store up to 3 days in the refrigerator

Photo by Sneha Cecil on Unsplash

The casserole is not only good for breakfast, but is also a great meal for dinner! I haven’t tried it with anything other than blueberries, but I bet it would taste just as good with peaches, raspberries, or strawberries!

A Saving We Will Go…

My recent Aldi’s haul for the month!

I like to save money, especially on the grocery bill. Feeding a large (or not so large) family can be expensive. Planning, shopping smart, and creating a menu plan for the month has helped me drastically cut my bill. For a family of 7, my bill for the month is about $450.00. That includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks! As I said, it took me a while to get there through trial and error, but I did it! My next step, especially during our homesteading journey, is to start a producing garden, and canning and freezing the bounty!

One of the types of plans I do is a rotating menu. For weeks 1 & 3 I do the same meals, and for weeks 2 & 4 I do the same meals. For example:

Weeks 1 and 3:

Monday: Spaghetti with sauce and Texas Toast

Tuesday: Tacos with rice

Wednesday: Chicken casserole with a tossed salad

Thursday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans

Friday: Homemade pizza with a tossed salad

Saturday: Egg bake with fruit and bacon

Sunday: Lasagna and roasted vegetables

You would then do another menu for weeks 2 & 4. The nice part is that it is flexible. You can move the meals around and you make it tailored to your families likes. When I am finished writing the menu, I put the ingredients I need right under the meal. I do the same with my breakfast, lunch, and snack planning. Then I use that to create my shopping list. For almost everything I need I go to Aldi’s. Shopping there has also decreased my bill, and I find their foods just as fresh as shopping somewhere else!

From ConsumerAffairs.com

You will find what works for you, and I encourage you to try! Budgeting is one of my favorite challenges, and I always love when I can save on the bills! Have faith in yourself, and start with small steps. I know you can do it!