Blueberry Buckle Recipe–and processing produce tips!

This week- a few things I did today as I enjoyed my day off!

It’s blueberry season here in Wisconsin and I just happened to have got my hands on 3 pints of fresh berries. I froze some for smoothies, so now we have fresh strawberries and fresh blueberries for smoothies this winter.

My husband purchased a bunch of beets at the Farmer’s Market this past Friday so I processed them today. Total time was one hour- I put them in a pan of water –medium setting 1-1/4 of an hour and then turned them off. I then let the water come down from a boil to warm and ran cold water in the pan and slipped the skins right off. They were put into freezer bags and we will be eating July beets 5-6 different times this coming winter. I would pickle them (my favorite) but hubby doesn’t like pickled beets very much.



There’s a story behind the peppers. About 7 weeks ago our neighbor, who travels a lot, asked me to take over her pepper plant due to her not being around enough to water it. We were at our max limit for weight on the deck so we kept it downstairs by the front door. When I took it over it was about 1-1/2 feet tall, scrawny and dry. I re-potted it in Purple Cow potting soil and kept it out of direct sun until it recovered somewhat, and it and my poor juniper, that is recovering from sun scorch kept each other company at our front door. Thinking it would die I never did get a before picture but 7/ 7-1/2 weeks later it’s loaded with peppers of all sizes. I have grown peppers on our deck in containers–even now that I think of it, I’ve successfully grown cucumbers. But it was hard between bugs and wind and limited full sun areas, neither of them do well on our deck. But hey maybe I’ll start a garden by our front door? I just cut up and take out the seeds from the peppers and freeze the cut up slices for future pizza’s and stir fry’s right away. Our first harvest yielded 7 peppers, I took 3 and I gave my neighbor 4 and plan to split the bounty with her each week to her delight.

Here’s the promised recipe for the blueberry buckle

My Container Garden at 10 Weeks!


Things are thinning out in my container garden–my lettuce, cherry tomatoes, first growth of rosemary, lemon thyme, and potatoes have now been harvested. Containers that have become waterlogged due to the excessive rain we’ve had in these parts have been drained, emptied and stored away until next year.

I have replaced some with a couple of pots of oregano, some impatiens and sylvia’s (my first try at an annual on my deck). My pumpkins are growing slow, as are my zinnia’s and sunflowers. Fungus gnats have taken over their soil.

I cooked up several of my cherry tomatoes with local bought zucchini-




The new potatoes were out of this world. Even though we’ve been eating organic red potatoes for years, nothing has ever tasted as good as the ones I’ve grown this summer. The skins melted in our mouths, and the flavor was out of this world. I used organic red seed potatoes and grew them in organic soil from Purple Cow Organics.  I harvested my potatoes when the plants were dead looking and dried up. There were three plants total in the pot and we harvested 28 potatoes of various sizes. I harvested too early as there were still tubers growing. Next time I will wait longer.


Until next time–be well.

Hello July!

Typical summer meal–homegrown and/or local– total cost per meal- $1.22, two good-sized adult meals, or food for three! We eat three or four vegetables with every meal. This meal also included baked chicken and fish. I’ve started making homemade tartar sauce by cutting up a dill pickle in tiny pieces and adding it to our vegan mayo with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar-Yum!

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

 

June in review–in pictures

Tomatoes– one slicing tomato from what was just 8 weeks ago just an 8-10″ better boy tomato plant, and two Mighty Sweet cherry tomatoes. The plant these were growing on went through 3 mild freezes and was just barely a twig when planted this spring. It now holds almost twenty little tomatoes! My better boy plant is almost 2 feet tall and my spindly little cherry tomato plant has reached almost 4 feet tall. I won’t lie growing vegetables on a balcony/deck isn’t easy. I have found tomato worms, and I’ve picked three potato beetles off of my potato plants. We have a lot of the wind on the north face and I am constantly out there adjusting tomato cages and trying to keep my plants from breaking off in the wind. Storms are the worst because, although we don’t get much of the rain, the trays the planters sit in fill with water. So that involves picking up heavy pots, draining the trays and then it all starts over again with the next rain. This summer our area has had a lot of rain, storms, and wind. In the end though the fresh homegrown produce, even though the yield isn’t much, means everything to me. I feel secure in knowing I can grow some of our food, and I know once we have our own place again I can and will do well with a fairly good-sized garden. I cannot wait. Until next time–be well!

 

Sacrificing– a way (and means) to better health

Every winter both my husband and I get asked at least a dozen times why we don’t get colds or flu. We just don’t. This past winter was my 11th year of good health–no cold and no flu at all. Do I get sick? Well, I do have days where my allergies kick my butt. Currently, we live near an area filled with ragweed and I am deathly allergic to ragweed. For years I thought it was all the goldenrod growing around here, turns out goldenrod is innocent. In fact, ragweed is the big culprit and I guess purposely grows near goldenrod to confuse allergy sufferers. The plants look distinctly different, but you may not find much on the internet about goldenrod’s innocence. Believe me, if you see goldenrod, ragweed is close by and it’s the one causing you to suffer. I use a lot of cold compresses and drink warm teas to help with them. My husband takes Claritin, but still suffers allergy symptoms. The ragweed is out of control I tell you. There are also a lot of trees around this area and trees (birch & cottonwood) and grass gives me sinus headaches. I was diagnosed with facial migraines in 2004 which can be associated with sinus issues. I’ve probably had these for almost twenty years now.  So yes, I’m not a perfectly healthy person by any means. That said I do everything in my power to increase my odds to live a life of good health.

In 2003 I went through a pretty intense period in my life. I lost a job I really loved that put me on a path that I’m still on to this day. First off I quit drinking for the second time, and I stopped smoking after smoking for almost 25 years. I did both cold turkey within 6 months of one another. I also quit drinking soda pop. My only beverage was water– good water (Evian).

Around 2004 I began to experience some weird symptoms hot feet, urinary problems, sore muscles and extreme fatigue. I had always had back and muscle problems from working in healthcare and injuring both my back, shoulders, and neck numerous times. First I went to my physician who ran a bunch of tests, some for hormones and basically gave me a clean bill of health. Second I was referred to a urologist for my urinary issue. After eating a good amount of strawberries summer of 2004 I noticed I was urinating scant amounts of blood and having to urinate multiple times a day. When I told the urologist this he informed me what I had would go away on its own, not to worry, and dismissed me. Turns out after some investigation what I have is interstitial cystitis–ulcers on my bladder lining. There is no cure. So depending on what I eat and drink, my bladder will act up. Over the years I have had flares that last a week or two at a time but then subside. Everything I eat can affect this issue. There is a special diet to follow, but I do not follow it. I do however drink a lot of water and have found that the flares last fewer and fewer days each time.

As for my muscle problems and extreme fatigue and sore painful points on my body issue– It was finally discovered by a different doctor that I have Fibromyalgia and have had it for quite a long time. Maybe close to 35 years? Fibromyalgia has a whole host of symptoms and I’ve run the gamut on each and every one of them. At the time mine was discovered there weren’t any medications to be prescribed. I was told to rest more and eat a better diet and exercise regularly.  Again I felt modern medicine had dropped the ball.

So instead of just giving up and crawling into a hole, I decided to research and research and find ways to better health. There had to be something more than eating a better diet. My diet had improved, but I could still do more. I researched organic food, homegrown and local and once I’d read everything out there on the interwebs about it (not much out there in 2004) my husband and I started on a path to a changed lifestyle that has included on the way- eating organic, living a more sustainable, chemical free, low in sugar, low to no preservative life. Believe me when I tell you it hasn’t been easy. All throughout my blog, I have posted about how hard it was and still is to source organic food. We’ve spent a fortune, that by the way, we didn’t always have, to ensure once we started we didn’t have to stop just because sourcing it was inconvenient. Back in the day I called stores and had them send product down with their salesperson for me to pickup because the local grocery stores didn’t carry it. We’ve put a ton of miles on our only vehicle to drive to CSA pickups and Farmer’s markets in order to get good homegrown produce. We’ve even gone as far as buying a new refrigerator and freezer so that our produce stays fresher and so that I can preserve some for over winter. Most of the changes in our lifestyle were made when we had only one income, and I was going to school full-time.  Not easy to do. Here are some other things I changed in my life to keep the odds in my favor:

  • I stopped using store bought sanitary items and started purchasing Luna pads in 2004.  This is a great article  recently written that explains my logic. I love Luna pads and using them while still having a period in my 50’s is a blessing.
  • I stopped wearing all make-up in 2004. Even without make-up I’ve gone on interviews, traveled, and worked in upper management positions. I know this may be a step that most women cannot or will not take, but I truly believe no make-up is one of the reasons I have almost no wrinkles. I mean like I have 1-2 wrinkles and I’m almost 53. I use Oil of Olay on my face and wash my face with Dove soap and warm water. That’s it. People look genuinely shocked when I tell them I am in my 50’s. It isn’t genetics I promise you that. I owe it all to no make-up!
  • No eating out in almost 90% of the restaurants out there- I gave up Taco Bell, Taco John’s, Chinese take-out, Indian/Thai take-out, McDonald’s, Burger King, buffets, Applebees, Pizza Hut really everything except two places. We still stop at our favorite high-end place for every special occasion- home grown food, and Panera. We started this ban on no eating out in 2004, but it took until 2010 or so to stop altogether. We don’t miss it or crave it and we’re saving a lot of $.
  • We grocery shop on the outer aisles, for the most part, only entering the inner aisles for cereal and baking products. We don’t buy food kits, mixes or canned or jar sauces. We don’t buy toppings, or canned cheeses, or packaged processed food of any kind. I had to give up Mac and Cheese and Cheez Whiz and Lipton Noodle soup and so much more. My husband’s list is even longer, including most of the food we import from Holland. If the product has more than 5 ingredients we don’t buy it.
  • No chemicals- all of our cleaning supplies are homemade/natural- lemon, vinegar, and essential oils. No sprays or candles or plug-ins are allowed in our house. No laundry soaps that are scented or colored. No fabric softeners or other smelly floral or perfume smelling cleaners or detergents. None. I changed almost everything over to chemical free by 2010. We don’t use body sprays, or smelly lotions or chemical laden soaps. I buy Dove soap and we purchase homemade soaps from local homesteaders or our co-op.
  • Almost all our food comes from our local co-op, Whole Foods, or Woodman’s grocery.  At least 90% of what we buy goes directly into the refrigerator or freezer. We have two big shelving units in our house for baking goods-bulk. Other than that condiments and bulk rice and bulk pasta, peanut butter and honey are the only dry goods we have in our home. Pizza is homemade, cakes and pies are homemade, jam is homemade, sauces are homemade and we freeze a ton of fruits and vegetable for overwintering.
  • Last but never least we eat produce when its in season. When peaches are in season I eat a lot of peaches. Same with strawberries and pears and raspberries and melons. When tomatoes are a plenty I eat 1-2 tomatoes a day for weeks. Same with fresh lettuce, beans, and squash. Sweet corn doesn’t agree with me much anymore, unfortunately, it is hard to find Non-GMO and/or organic corn. I do eat a dozen or so pieces each summer for nostalgia sake. In fall we eat a lot of squash -acorn and zucchini and new potatoes and beets. Spring– kale, spinach, early carrots, and peas. We follow the simple guideline of eating according to the season’s harvest.

In 2008 when the swine flu was knocking everyone out around these parts I sat in a classroom surrounded by students each in a different phase of the swine flu. Even the instructor was sick as were members of his family. Eventually, the school closed for a few days to let people recover. I didn’t get sick.  Nothing. This kind of immunity really remains a mystery to me to this day. As does my ability to continue to hike, walk several miles while out on an excursion with my husband, even bike ride Wisconsin trails without issue. I work, I volunteer and do a lot of outside activities never calling into work, never getting what most people consider sick. My husband has gone almost twenty years at his work with no sick days. I know it’s not because we are genetically healthy people with strong immune systems. I can promise you very little about how healthy we are today is associated with our genetics.

I believe 100% it has to do with our lifestyle and while I know that some of the changes I’ve made or we’ve made are extreme they are worth every year we go without colds and flu, worth the fact we don’t have ER visits or stand in long lines at the pharmacy. We worry about everything going on with insurance — we pay about $1600 a year for the both of us (which is pretty good all things considered), yet we have rarely used our insurance. We have annual preventative care physicals, but short of that my husband saw a doctor for a minor issue 10 years ago and I had surgery on my feet- arthritis, ingrown nails and bone spurs twice after surgery. That’s been almost 3-4 years ago, otherwise for me nothing since 2004. It works for us this I know.   It goes without saying before making any changes to your lifestyle and diet please be sure to talk them over with your trusted family physician first.  Until next time- be well!

“The Greatest Wealth is Health”

Links :

Food preservatives that are bad for your health- article here

Candles and Sprays and clean air- article here

Dangers of eating Fast Food- article here

Hormonal disruptors in make-up- article here

Summer Meal Planning–7 day meal plan

Tired of having to pay subscription prices for a meal plan? or sign up for tips and tricks and end up inundated with spam emails? Here’s a 7-day meal plan without a catch–no hassles, no subs, and definitely no hidden costs. Summer time is a time where meal planning can get a little hectic. School’s out, and there’s vacation time to plan for and meals tend to be quick meals with little cleanup. Nowadays with all the meal plans available, some right to your front door, why choose to make meals yourself? In my case, for my family’s needs, it came down to saving money and eating local homegrown whole foods. Maybe you don’t have that option available to you, or you don’t have the time to make meals from prep to finish? If you cannot source local homegrown then use what you have–supermarket produce works fine. I’m a big fan of T & A produce and it’s sold in most grocery stores. We eat T & A’s romaine hearts, broccoli, and hydroponic butter lettuce.

Most of the meals in my 7-day meal plan can be prepped the night before. So when you have a little bit of free time, prep the next meal. Also when you cook up ground beef make extra and freeze the extra portion for another meal. I double most recipes and freeze the rest. We have at least 3 meals frozen on hand at any given time that we can grab if time is tight.

Monday-Grilled Hamburgers with Napa cabbage slaw and slowly roasted potato wedges. Prep time-20 minutes. Total cooking time 35-45 minutes depending on how done you want your burgers.

Tuesday– Sausage, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Prep time 25 minutes–total time is 1 hour (includes bake time).

Wednesday-Everything but the kitchen sink salad-lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, sliced beets (I use Nellie’s sliced pickled beets vs. fresh beets), avocado, leftover red cabbage slaw and sliced boiled egg with homemade salad dressing. Prep time is 10-15 minutes- chop everything up, boil egg (5 minutes) wash and rinse lettuce & green onions.  You can add cooked chicken, steak or even tuna from tuna packs to make this a heartier salad.

Thursday-Roasted veggie taco with creamy cilantro dressing–recipe here. Total time- 45 minutes.

Friday– Pork Roast in the slow cooker, carrots, and new red potatoes. Prep 10-15 minutes. Total cooking time depends on the size of roast (minimum 4 hours on a low setting) add new red potatoes which are smaller than reg. potatoes during the last 2 hours of slow cooking so that they won’t get mushy before the roast is done.

Saturday-Pulled pork over baked sweet potatoes.  Prep time 5-10 minutes, total cooking time 1 -1/2 hours at 350 degrees for medium-large sweet potatoes.

SundayTeriyaki Chicken and vegetable foil pack for the grill- prep time- 30 minutes..cook time is 1 hour or until chicken is done. **I love this site and you will find several more easy foil pack meals to make plus so many more delicious things to try.**

Recipes-

Homemade Salad Dressing– your best salad dressing ( I use Vegan dressing by Hellman’s), mix 1/4 cup dressing( per 2 people )with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt (or less or not at all) & a tablespoon of granulated sugar and a half cup of milk. Add more milk if you want your dressing thin instead of creamy.  The healthier the salad dressing is that you buy, the healthier your homemade dressing will be. Total time- 5 minutes

Napa Cabbage Slaw– buy a Napa cabbage in the produce department or farmer’s market or local grower that is light green in color. You will also need 2 carrots and ingredients for the homemade salad dressing. I grate the carrots, chop the slaw and mix together with my homemade salad dressing. Use a bit less milk with the dressing because you want the slaw to be able to top your burger! You can add salt and pepper to taste and for extra flavor toss in chopped scallions. Total time- 15 minutes.

Red Cabbage- I use a great recipe from Taste of Home found here.

~~Grocery List~~

Produce department/Farmer’s market/local grower

Napa Cabbage

Red Cabbage

Romaine Hearts Lettuce

Scallions

Green onions

Avocado

Cilantro

Sweet Potatoes

Baking Potatoes

New Red Potatoes

Carrots

Cucumbers

Red Onion

Tomatoes

Yellow & Red Peppers

Zucchini

Lemon

Lime

Meat Department

Pork Roast

Hamburger

Chicken Breast

Sausage

**how much meat you buy will depend on family size**

Dairy

1/2 gallon of milk or 1/2 and 1/2 for salad dressing

Eggs- at least 6 eggs

Butter

Sour Cream

Middle Aisles

Good salad dressing- I’ve used both Just Mayo and Hellman’s Vegan dressing

Hamburger buns

Brown Sugar, soy sauce, cooking rice, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, 32 oz. chicken broth, ground ginger, olive oil, 15 oz black beans, and Nellie’s sliced pickled beets.

Flour tortillas

I think I’ve remembered to add everything you will need to create these 7 easy meals to the grocery list above. Some meals will work for Paleo diets or even a vegetarian diet. Some can even be made if you are camping. Most take less than 30 minutes prep and there is even a meal that can be made from yesterday’s leftovers.  We eat a lot of meals that are heavy in produce because this is the time of year produce costs the least.  I generally don’t make meals like this in the winter due to not being able to source real fresh produce.  So enjoy these meals now, enjoy the savings, and reap the benefits of these great whole food meals for the next seven days.

Container Gardening Week– #7













Week 7 has been a busy week- suckers to pluck off of tomato plants growing fast and the first of the potato bugs.  Even in a small garden, there is work and diligence needed. I was shocked to see a potato bug–we’re two stories up?  So at this time, I have removed two of them and the leaves they were sitting on in case that is where they laid their eggs.  I have a total of 40 tomatoes on three tomato plants at this time. I purchased my potting soil, tomato gro and fertilizer from Purple Cow Organics and I never ever want to plant another garden if I can’t plant it using these products. Wow, what a difference organic soil and organic fertilizer make!

Right now I am mounding dirt around my potato plants because tubers will only grow in dirt that is around 65 degrees. So it is a must to keep the soil and pot and plant cool. The opposite is needed for tomatoes to turn red. They need hot 75 to 85-degree heat both on the plants and in the soil. Last year I stopped watering my plants for two to three days at a time and all my tomatoes ripened. Tomatoes will keep ripening even when the plant looks half dead.

Our week started out with a trip to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. This was a trip we had planned for a couple of years and we really enjoyed seeing the Seed Savers Exchange gardens, fields and visitors center. We stopped at a few other favorite places in Decorah and then made our way back to Wisconsin. Of course, we had to stop at Bauer’s Marketplace in La Crescent, MN because they were having their buy one pot get one pot of flowers or herbs free. We purchased 6 large guinea impatiens and 4 geraniums and paid just over $20.00 for all. Fabulous deal and they had fresh asparagus to boot.

Everything in our container garden has grown double in size in less than two weeks. Plants we thought were going to die haven’t and plants we re-potted from Walmart potting soil, which had fungus gnats in it, are doing way better than we thought. Our garden looks great this year! I’ve harvested two small bouquets of lavender, more to come, and of course we had over a dozen salads from the lettuce. I also crushed the chocolate mint after I dried it and made tea from it. Best tea ever. I will share the recipe next time.  A little over a week ago I planted pumpkins and zinnias which are both up and doing well. My next project is to make some homemade salve or lotion using my lemon thyme. I am hoping for good results and I will share pictures here if successful. That’s all for this week–until next time be well.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

This past Saturday our morning plans included picking 12# of fresh strawberries. We were out in the local strawberry patch just before 8am and picked 12# in about 30 minutes. Once home I followed the instructions on the Sure-Jell package and after approximately 1 hour I had 12 containers of various sizes of fresh strawberry freezer jam. The recipes called for 8 cups of fresh fruit–and here’s an important step>>but the instructions stated 4 cups of liquid (once strawberries crushed). Eight cups of fresh strawberries yielded way more than 4 cups of liquid so I refrigerated the rest. So- once you crush the eight cups of strawberries take 4 cups of strawberries crushed and their liquid, three cups of sugar and one box of Sure-Jell. I did two batches of it at a time. So in saucepan #1– three cups of sugar, one box Sure-Jell, and one cup of water. Bring to a boil, stir for one minute. Remove from burner and add 4 cups of crushed fresh strawberries. Stir for one minute until blended. Pour immediately in clean, freshly washed with boiled water and dried containers (I had various sizes of plastic containers). Put the lids on containers and let sit for 24 hours room temperature to set.

This was my very first attempt at making homemade jam and it was a success! Pardon the pictures I am trying a new photo editor and they may appear too bright on your screen.

Until next time- be well!~

Grilled Aspargus

Fresh green asparagus is usually the first vegetable of the season for us. Personally, I don’t like asparagus, but my husband loves it as long as it’s cooked, or grilled right. All summer long I grill food for my husband and I. I’ve even been known to grill late fall/early winter. Most of what we grill is grilled in packets–so fast meals like salmon, grilled corn (I parboil it first), asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, and sausage. My secrets to successful grilling are a good hot grill, butter or a good marinade and patience.

Depending on my husband’s preference I either grill the asparagus for him or steam it with some salmon. Paired with tiny red potatoes or the seasons first fingerling potatoes and we’re enjoying the first home grown (almost) meal of the season.

Marinade- just before asparagus is done, whether grilled or steamed I drizzle lemon, lemon zest, parsley, and salt & pepper on it.

Our Grill– a Weber Spirit Gas Grill

Bon Appetit!

Container garden at five weeks!!

I’ve got a whopping eight tomatoes on my plants already. It was kind of hard to show in pictures, but they are there. Tiny 6″ tomatoes plants are now giants. Two plants are planted in a large pot and each one of them is about 14″ tall and fill the entire planter they are kept in. I had two other tomato plants in separate containers that both received frost– one was thrown and the other I kept and have tried to take extra special care of. All of his frost burned foliage fell off and new has replaced it, but he is awful spindly. He stands approx. 2 ft high in the planter he is in. Because of my mistake planting potatoes in too shallow of a pot, I joined five good plants and then used the extra dirt to mount them in one pot. If the plants were growing straight up they would be a foot tall. My shrubs that I bought for downstairs by my front door are growing instead together in a pot on our deck. Currently, they are almost filling the diameter of the pot they are in. Everything looks great and I still attribute that to the soil I planted all of them in–Purple Cow Organics. Plus this week I gave them all a tsp of Purple Cow Bio-Active all-purpose fertilizer. The package says- Purple Cow BioActive All-Purpose Fertilizer is an organic 4-6-4 granular fertilizer which has been inoculated with Mycorrhizal Fungi. These fungi may improve nutrient and water uptake by plants. Safe for pets and kids too!
If I make container gardening sound easy it is anything but–it requires trial and error, patience and constant tending. Instead of relying upon mother nature some of the time for water, I must water my garden almost daily. For me that means carrying pitchers of water through the house to the deck 6-7 times a week. I also use condensation from our air conditioner that drips into a pail on our deck to water the flowers. This year we had to adjust the weight of items on the deck to not place too much weight on it. Two of our small trees were taken downstairs by our front door to assure the weight of our container garden was safe. We are on the north face of the building so we get hit with a lot of wind and sporadic sun.
Most years everything survives, but often most don’t thrive. I keep at it because it is good therapy and I want us to learn how to grow our own food. I’ll be back tomorrow with grilling tips!