Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Homesteading and Homemade Food

Aside from attending the renaissance festival, my weekends have been taken up making pumpkin puree, roasting pumpkin seeds, baking bread, making pasta, and canning.

The pumpkin seeds are so delicious.  A quick boil in salt water and baking in a baking sheet with some olive oil makes them crispy, salty, a little oily and just plain delicious.  They don't last long in our house.

This year, we had four San Marzano roma tomato plants.  My mom had one.  Her one plant produced more than our four combined - times five!  She was sick of dealing with the plant at the end of September, so she let us have whatever we wanted if we ripped it out for her.  We got almost 45 pounds from that one plant!


We laid all of the tomatoes out on the table in front of a window.  The red ones we picked out and threw into a freezer bag.  The rest, we let sit.


So when it came to sauce day, I knew we'd be set.  We'd have enough tomatoes to fulfill our needs all winter.  What I didn't realize was that I didn't have the equipment to deal with all of this at once!

Within ten minutes of putting the tomatoes into all of these pans, the black pan started to smell terrible.  Because of how the bottom of the pan was formed, the tomatoes instantly burned to the bottom.  So we pulled the tomatoes that were still good off and filled more pans.


The whole process was a bit stressful.  I kept having to shift sauce around from pan to pan in order to keep it from burning but to keep reducing.  I kept cooking and straining tomatoes for six hours.  I bet if I had a large stock pot, this would be a much easier endeavor.


In the end, though, it all worked out pretty well.  I would totally do this again next year if I'm properly prepared.

After the tomato sauce ordeal, I apparently had canning amnesia, because I bought two half-bushels of apples.

I'm thankful that apples last a long time, because it took me a couple of week to get around to processing them.


About half way through processing, I mentioned to my dad that it was really difficult to push the apple pulp through the sides of my strainer with a spatula.  I wanted to get a food mill one day.  The next day, he stops by with my grandmother's Foley food mill.  She used to use it for making ketchup.  My grandfather gave it to me to use since he wouldn't be using it.  It really makes work easier!

Since June, we've put up 16 quarts and 15 pints of peaches, 6 quarts of green beans, 16 half-pints of strawberry jam, 14 half-pints of peach preserves, 12.75 quarts of tomato sauce, 6 half-pints of tomato paste, and 41.5 half-pints of apple butter.  Every time I can something new, I only see the bit that I just did.  I feel a little good about it, but it still doesn't feel like enough.  Well, that changed today.  I went downstairs to put more apple butter in the pantry, and there wasn't enough room.  Over 1/3 of our pantry is home canned, and that is amazing.  Our strawberry jams are rapidly disappearing, though, because they are *B*'s favorite.  We will definitely be canning a bigger batch next year.

This past Saturday, we bought three fresh chickens from a local farmer.  These chickens are sustainably and humanely raised.  It’s the same farm where we get our pork.  The chickens look more bird-like than any other chicken I've ever bought.


I chose fresh chickens so that I could part them out myself and be able to use as much of the chicken as possible while giving us an easy source of meat on busy nights.  Part of using the whole chicken was rendering the fat.  I’ve never done it before, but we tend to eat skinless meat, so it seemed like a good idea.  I followed the tutorial on Penniless Parenting and it was fantastic!  The result was almost ½ a cup of shmaltz and some tasty fried chicken skin.


I've also been doing a couple of little projects.  I made homemade pasta on a whim using the 3 cups whole wheat flour to 1 cup water ratio to put into some chicken broth for an impromptu chicken noodle soup when *B* was sick.  I didn't consider myself a chicken noodle soup person in years gone by, but I am definitely a homemade chicken noodle soup person.  I realized it's just the canned stuff I can't stand.


I've made two batches of crackers now using the recipe from the Prudent Homemaker.  They're really good, but I'm having a hard time rolling them thin enough to be cracker-like.  For now, they're tasty pita-like bites.  I added 1 tsp of garlic the last time, and it made it brilliant.

Since it's getting cold and Christmas is coming, I picked up some yarn at our local store for a scarf for Miss F and presents for family.  I was amazed that the scarf took me just over 24 hours to make.  In a day, she got herself a new scarf to go with her red, pink, and white winter hat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A New Farmer's Market

*B*, Miss F, and I started going to a new farmer's market.  It's much further away than the one in our town, but for some reason our market closed early in the middle of September.  It's probably for the best, because the new one we found is MUCH bigger and has many more items. 

We buy coffee there from a local roaster who employs people with developmental delays and sends some of their profits to charities overseas.  There are at least three times the number of farms, many more meat and egg producers.  They know us and Miss F even plays with one producer's daughter while we're there.  There are three pastry/bread/yummy food vendors.  I know two of three vendors.  I grew up with the son of one of the vendors.  His mom makes delicious jam.  The other vendor happens to be a couple I used to know.  I babysat their children when they were young, and it's now amazing to see them move onto a new stage in their lives now that they're empty-nesters.  They make the most brilliant food - bacon, cheddar, and scallion scones, ham and gruyere croissants, pumpkin tiramisu, and plenty of pastries.

Since we've found this farmer's market, we've been stockpiling winter squash and pumpkins.  We love all things pumpkin, and we love soup made from butternut squash.  This year though, we also picked up a hubbard squash and a cheese pumpkin.  We're going to see how they taste.  If good, we'll load up on them to feed us through the winter, since the market only goes until the end of November.  My mother's husband had this work shelf sitting around that he made a number of years ago.  They gave it to us, and it makes an excellent squash storage shelf.  It's wonderful to see it so full!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

Since I went back to work a little over a month ago, I have been making the most of every single moment the best I can.  That means more work, but less blogging.  I have off today, but I go back Tuesday through Friday for my last week of teaching these classes.

I've learned a lot about myself in the time that I've been back teaching.  The first week was fantastic.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  Then came the first test.  The average was 75%.  For most teachers, that's considered a decent score.  For me, I agonized over those students who came in under that number.  Some of these kids didn't pay attention, didn't ask questions, didn't come to see me, didn't do their homework, and didn't do the chapter review.  But I still stressed out hard core that they failed, even if they didn't seem to worry about it at all.  I worry about how much of the grade was my fault.  I think it's the judgment calls that are the hardest.  I continually check and double check my steps - was I fair with grading?  Did I take off a point or half a point for small math errors?  What’s a small error?  Should I allow them to turn things in late if they have a good reason?  How do I know they're not lying to me about their excuses?

I think I've decided that I'd love to teach if there were no grades.  That's essentially tutoring, which I do now.  But my night job is very stressful for two reasons.  One, there's no evening family time.  *B* and I split shift parent, which means he gets home, kiss hello/goodbye, and I go off to work.  We don't even get to eat dinner together.  Since he leaves early in the morning for work, we don’t get breakfast together, either.  Essentially, on days I work, we have no family meals whatsoever.  Reason number two, my boss is a very nice woman, but she has difficulty running a business.  She messes up kids' schedules all the time, she forgot to take taxes out of my paycheck all year last year, and I didn't know that until I got my W-2 because she would never give me pay stubs no matter how often I asked.  She’s also very demanding of my time despite what I need.  If I say that I can only work two days a week, she still pushes for a third (or fourth) day.  And I’m stuck deciding between my job and my family.  If I choose my family, I have to make that case over and over again every time she asks me to put in more time.  While I like the work, it provokes a lot of anxiety on my part.

The hardest part was that Miss F had a very bad experience with daycare for the first two weeks.  She got three major head injuries in three days from climbing and tipping chairs into the center's brick walls.  While I know that kids get hurt,  the center did nothing to fix the problem after the first time, or even the second.  I had other concerns as well, so I looked them up on our state's child care licensing database.  They had six major, unresolved infractions.  These ranged from being understaffed and overcrowded to being in a building with major code violations including no running water in the bathrooms.  We pulled her out immediately and found a very nice woman who runs a small home daycare down the road.  I have been much less worried since she's switched, but I still miss her.

I’ve decided that I’ll be going back in January to cover a friend’s maternity leave.  We can save a lot of money up for the next baby.  I'm not pregnant, but we've been thinking a lot lately that our family feels like we're missing someone.  I've been offered my old job back full time next year, but I won’t go back to teaching full time if *B* gets a job that can support all of us.  He graduates in December, and I’ve agreed to move anywhere in the country if he can find a job.  His degree is in Environmental Biology, and there aren’t many related jobs in our area.

So that's all of the work-related news that's been going on lately.  I've got quite a few posts lined up on the home-related goings on to be posted shortly.