Give Me Some More S’mores Please…

We all love s’mores (At least I hope we all do!). There is nothing better than having your firepit going outside and roasting marshmallows on a summer night (or fall, winter, and spring night…). Not all of us have a firepit, or enjoy going out in the cold though, so how can you still taste those yummy s’mores??? You make s’mores dip! It is easy to make, and so yummy!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips, semi-sweet, milk chocolate, or a combo
  • 15 jumbo marshmallows, halved
  • Graham cracker squares

Directions:

  • Adjust rack to center position of oven and place 8-inch cast iron skillet on rack. Preheat oven to 450°F with skillet inside. Once oven is preheated, use a pot holder to remove hot skillet from the oven. Place pat of butter in the skillet and use a pot holder to hold the handle and swirl the skillet so that the melted butter coats the bottom and sides. Pour chocolate chips in an even layer into the bottom of the skillet. Taking care not to burn fingers on the sides of the skillet, arrange marshmallow halves over the surface of the chocolate chips, covering the chocolate completely. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until marshmallows are toasted to your preference. Use an oven mitt to remove the skillet from the oven and rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with graham cracker squares or sticks! (Be careful! The skillet will still be very hot!!)

You can use whatever flavored chips (butterscotch, peanut butter, etc.) you like, and can even mix it up! This treat will be sure to please all!

Waffles…Da, Da, Da!

We love to make brunch every Sunday, and enjoy coming up with different items to make. One of our favorites is waffles! My son usually makes them, but I have gotten in on the action as well. As someone who loves to bake and cook, I had never made homemade waffles before, and I love it! You can top your waffles with fruit, chocolate, homemade whip cream, maple syrup, powdered sugar, fruit syrup, and so much more! We also serve it with either bacon or sausage.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour 
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder plus a teaspoon
  • 1/4 cup Sugar 
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 Cups Milk 
  • 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Directions:

  • Warm your waffle iron. I set mine to 350 degrees. In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a small bowl. In a medium bowl whisk the milk, eggs and vanilla together. Stir in the melted butter.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix until combined.
  • Add about 1/3 cup of batter for each waffle. I also coat my iron with a bit of vegetable oil. It keeps the waffles from sticking and gives it a nice crisp!

Remember… waffles aren’t just for breakfast or brunch, they are also just as yummy for dinner!

Churn (Shake) That Butter…

We go through a lot of butter, and as most of you know, it is expensive. We love to bake, and we know how much butter that can take! If we can make it AND cut costs, well, I will take it! This is what our journey is about. Below is a recipe for homemade butter! (Make sure you do arm exercises if you decide to do the jar method, lol!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • Large bowl of ice water
  • Stand mixer, or a jar with a tight fitting lid

Directions:

Pour a pint of the cream into your mixer, or jar. If using a mixer, turn on low speed, then raise to medium speed. If you’re using a jar, start shaking! At first, the cream will turn into whipped cream with soft, then stiff peaks. Keep mixing until the cream breaks. If you’re shaking by hand, you’ll hear sloshing, then you’ll begin to feel something more solid. If you’re using a stand mixer, you’ll see the butter clinging to the beater. This usually takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, but if by hand may take longer. You are separating the butterfat from the liquid. 

Once the butter has solidified, pour off the buttermilk and save it for baking! Scoop the butter into a bowl. Rinse the butter by pouring ice water over it and pressing the remaining buttermilk out with a small spatula or a spoon. Pour off the water and repeat the process. Keep rinsing and squishing the butter with the ice water until the water runs clear. (You can also add a bit of salt at this point if you would like)

Enjoy on toast, crackers, or in your favorite thing to bake!

 

Budget Don’t Fail Me Now…

We weren’t always on a budget, and it definitely caused us to fall behind on bills, as well as made our credit less than desirable. We were tired of living paycheck to paycheck, and having nothing left over. For most of our marriage, I have been a stay at home mom, so we do live on one paycheck. But you can still save if you know where to cut and budget. We had a wake up call years ago, and reworked how we were spending, what we were spending it on, and where all the extra money was going. We not only are saving, but our credit is repaired! It takes work, a few tears, some laughs, and a whole lot of determination, but you can do it!

Where did we start? Here is the list of some steps we took:

  1. We wrote down all our bills (including mortgage or rent), and looked at items we could either get rid of, or cut down on. One of the big things is the electric and water bill in our house. With the electric we make sure to unplug items when not in use, especially chargers. We keep lights turned off during the day and only put ones on if needed. We changed our light bulbs to more efficient ones, and use timers when needed. When it comes to the heat and air conditioning, we use the air the most because we live in the southeast. We keep it at a temperature that is comfortable enough and if we aren’t at home we turn it up higher. For the water, we use the dishwasher, and if washing by hand we turn off the water in between washing/rinsing. We do larger loads of laundry, and we are allotted a certain amount of time in the shower (if my kids had their way they would be signing happily in there for an hour). These small steps have saved us about $50-$75 a month.
  2. We were also out of control with our grocery bill, and easily spending $1,500 or more a month. This is where we saved the most money, and this is where we really revamped. We see where the best sales are (usually it is between Aldi’s and Walmart), and, if needed, shop between a couple of places. We started meal planning, meal prepping, and making a lot of things homemade (I feel this is where we really started our homesteading journey). We also shop for the month (this is especially handy if you have a stand alone freezer, or extra refrigerator), and use our rotating pantry. We have slashed our bill to about $450-$500 a month. We also have a budget of about $150 a month for toiletries/miscellaneous. In total for both is about $600-$650 a month. We have saved over $900 a month just on that alone.
  3. Envelopes. Yes, envelopes. We have a ledger sheet in each one stating how much we put in, and how much we take out. If you don’t feel comfortable with taking the cash out, or just don’t have the time, you can easily do this with a savings account attached to your checking, and keep track of it that way. We did it that way last year due to the pandemic, and we were still able to keep our goals. We don’t do it that way permanently, because we like to have it physically with us, and use cash whenever possible. This method works for us, but it may not work for everyone. Some tweaking may be involved! We have envelopes for the following:
  • Medical (co-pays, prescriptions, etc.)
  • Groceries
  • Toiletries
  • Eat Out (once a month)
  • Clothes/Shoes
  • Savings
  • Savings #2
  • Emergency Fund (3-6 months worth of expenses)
  • Birthdays
  • Christmas
  1. Credit cards… where do I begin? We need credit cards to help build our credit, but they can send us into debt. When we were struggling financially, it helped when we needed it, but it was a vicious cycle because we were only able to pay the minimum, if anything at all (we always contacted the credit card company if this was the case, and they were always helpful and willing to work with us). It took us years to pay down even the smallest amount. Do we still have credit cards? Absolutely, but we use them wisely. We use them for gas, and some bills (we use the rewards cards), but we pay off the full amount each month (we make sure we have the money already set aside). We don’t use them for large either. We always save in cash for those. Some people I know use their credit cards to pay for everything, even their mortgage, but always pay them off each month. They usually have rewards cards and use them for vacations, etc. Short story long, use them wisely and make sure you have the money to pay them off each month.
  2. Living simply. This has been our motto for a few years now. We used to think we needed every new thing that came out, new cars, new electronics, etc. We don’t. We are living within our means, and still enjoying life. We have a roof over our head, food on our table, clothes on our backs, heat when it’s cold, air when it’s hot, and plenty of laughter and love. We take joy in what life and nature has to offer. Hiking trails, beaches, lakes, mountains…We love to bargain hunt and thrift shop. We enjoy refurbishing our finds, and items we already have. We make old things new. We create. We enjoy.

Everyone is different. Everyone lives different lifestyles. This works for us and our lifestyle. If you are like us, it may work for you, If not, there may be parts that help, or parts you can tweak to fit your life…Just remember, whether you have a large family like ours, or a small one, having a budget is important. Life is expensive, but if you plan accordingly, you can still enjoy it!

Muffins Gonna Stop Us Now…

I love to prepare foods ahead of time. It helps on the mornings that are busy, or on the days you just want to stay curled up in bed. Muffins are my go to. They are easy to make, store well, and are great for not only breakfast, but a snack as well! One of our favorites is blueberry muffins. An added benefit is that blueberries are an antioxidant superfood, and packed with potassium and vitamin c! Why not put them in a yummy muffin? This is one of my favorite recipes. They come out moist and look like the ones you buy at a bakery, but they are even better because you can control what you are putting in it! I hope you give them a try!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour (plus 1 tablespoon for dusting the blueberries)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup plain sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen (see Recipe Note)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F placing the rack in the lower middle. Using cooking spray, liners, or butter, prepare your muffin tins (makes 12 muffins).
  2. Place the blueberries in a bowl. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of flour over them and gently toss to coat. The flour helps the blueberries not to sink while baking.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients—the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, place the sour cream, sugar, eggs, milk, melted butter, lemon zest, and vanilla. Whisk together until smooth.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture a third at a time, and mix until just combined. Be sure not to overmix. Gently fold the blueberries into the mixture.
  6. Distribute the dough equally in the muffin pan. Be sure to fill them up high. This is what makes the muffins so big!
  7. Place the muffin pan in the oven, and bake at 400°F until the muffins are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Test with a toothpick to make sure the centers of the muffins are done.
  8. Let the muffins cool. Remove from muffin pan and place on a serving plate, or in an airtight container.

*The muffins will keep for about 3-4 days in a container, or you can freeze for up tp 3 months. Reheats well in the microwave.

Enjoy!

Ride Into the Garden Zone…

Before our homesteading journey, I had no idea there were even garden zones! I just figured you planted whenever, and everything would grow beautifully. As you know from a previous post, I was completely in outer space when it came to that, lol. I actually just realized about garden zones not too long ago! Right now we live in zone 8a, which is in the southeast. What does that exactly mean? Here is a bit of a breakdown of our frost times, and also some vegetables, plants, herbs, and trees you can plant in our climate:

First and last frost dates

Our last frost is between 3/15-4/15

Our first frost is between 11/1-11/30

Vegetables

🌱Carrots

🌱Peas

🌱Celery

🌱Broccoli

🌱Spinach

🌱Asparagus

Fruit Trees and Shrubs

🍃Apple

🍃Pear

🍃Apricot

🍃Fig

🍃Cherry

🍃Citrus

🍃Nuts

Herbs

🌿Chives

🌿Sorrel

🌿Thyme

🌿Marjoram

🌿Oregano

🌿Rosemary

🌿Sage

Flowering Plants

🌼Bottlebrush

🌼Hibiscus

🌼Christmas cactus

🌼Butterfly bush

🌼Indian hawthorn

We generally will have almost 8 months of frost-free growing time, plus you can start some crops earlier indoors. Some vegetables that you can start indoors in mid-February are:

🌱Beets

🌱Cabbage

🌱Carrots

🌱Kale

🌱Lettuce

🌱Peas

🌱Spinach

🌱Tomatoes

🌱Onions

*These seeds will turn into seedlings that you will transplant to the outdoors.

You can also do a second round of veggies for fall and winter crops. You can start seeds inside in August and September. Broccoli and cabbage can get started in early August. Beets, cauliflower, carrots, kale, and lettuce in mid-August, and peas and spinach in early September. All of these should go into their outdoor beds by the end of September. Broccoli and cabbage can go out early in the month, and the rest a couple of weeks later.

I am so glad I have smartened up (sort of, lol), and done my research. It makes for a much less stressful situation, and I am finding joy in planning and seeing my garden thrive! Do you know what zone you are in? What grows best where you live? What are your favorite things to grow! Let me know!

(A Little Bit of) Salsa in My Life…

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

If your family is anything like mine, you love to snack, especially on the weekends. One of the things we love to eat is nachos and salsa, but were never content with the store bought salsa. Since we are on our homesteading journey, and are trying to make a lot of things homemade and from scratch, we decided to give salsa a try! Let me tell you, we are never turning back! This is the recipe my son uses, and the great thing about it is that you can make it as hot, or as mild, as you want!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 lbs. Roma tomatoes (about 5 – 6), cut into medium sized slices and then into quarters
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 green onions, ends trimmed, chopped into thirds
  • 1/3 cup chopped red onion 
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro 
  • 1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*You can omit certain spices, if you don’t like it too hot, and replace it with milder options.

Directions

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse in 1 second bursts until all ingredients are finely chopped. Make sure not to pulse it too much, because it will turn soupy. You want it crisp and thick!
  • Serve with tortilla chips. Chill for at least 2 hours. Always best served cold!
  • Store in refrigerator up to 1 week, or freeze in freezer bags up to 3 months.

This salsa has such a nice crunch to it, and the flavors, since you are using fresh vegetables, just make your mouth do a little dance! It is easy to make, and it stores well. Try it on your next family game or movie night!

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:

🥕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.

🥕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.

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

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

🥕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:

🌱Lettuce (YES!)

🌱Green Beans

🌱Radishes

🌱Carrots

🌱Tomatoes

🌱Peppers

🌱Spinach

🌱Kale

🌱Chard

🌱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!