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Friday, October 31, 2008

Finished Object Friday: Almost Saturday

This is just squeaking under the wire. I have finished my Daring Baker's challenge this week and a few pies.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Frugality (Part I): Make It At Home

What do you think when you hear the word Frugal? Some people think cheap and chintzy, some think skinflint and tightwad, some think miserly and spartan. I don't think it has to be any of those things. We are frugal because it is a wise use of our time and money, allows me to be home with our children and for us to afford things that we otherwise wouldn't be able to if we didn't keep track of our money. Frugality does not mean poverty, scarcity, deficiency or poor quality. It does sometimes mean delayed gratification.

We have such an abundance of good things that we have to work hard to store, clean, protect and keep track of them. Just this week, I have given away about five large sacks of things we didn't need, and our children are going through their toys and coats to give away extras and pare down what they have. People frequently ask us how we can afford to have six children. They have bought into the common myth of our culture that families cannot afford to live on one income and that children are too expensive. We are able to do it on one rather average income in a rather above average income area because of how we budget and plan. It does require forethought and work. This whole economy downturn has everyone tightening their belts, people are starting to think about living as we've always lived. This is how we live regardless of how the economy is doing, and it has served our family well, perhaps it can help your family, too.

I had no fewer than four different people independently ask me how we stored our bulk foods in one week, they wanted to know how to stock up and be prepared for economic collapse, natural disaster, whatever might come their way. So I thought I'd pass on a few tips on maintaining a budget in good times and bad. Those of you with larger families or who have dedicated yourselves to having a parent at home are probably already doing a lot of this, but maybe you'll get a few ideas or be able to pass on things I haven't thought about or mentioned yet. In order to keep from overwhelming people, I will write this as a series.

We are a family of eight. One of us is an infant who nurses exclusively, one is an adult male and three of our children eat at least as much as I do. We also buy feed for 33 chickens and 4 ducks. Our grocery budget for our whole family, including paper products, toiletries and cleaning supplies, is roughly $700 just checked our records, it's more like $600 a month ($700 is more around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter). That is about $175 $150 a week, which is up from our $125 a week that we used to spend about a year and a half ago. Our poultry feed is also included in this amount. If we took out the paper, toiletries and cleaning supplies, we'd probably pay about $125 a week.

We buy about 70% of our food from within a 100 mile radius of our home. You can make that at least 85% if you expand that area to include the region in which we live. We buy organic, raw milk, locally raised pastured meat and as much organic produce as we can afford. So, how do we do it? This week I will tell you one of the things that helps us save money: making it ourselves.

For most people, groceries, gas, clothing and entertainment are the only variables in their budget. For the sake of my discussion here, I will include paper products, toiletries and cleaning supplies with your groceries, eating out, books, music and movies in entertainment, along with vacations and dates. Your house payment or rent is the same each month, ditto for your electricity/heating, water and trash, insurance, etc. You cannot cut them that much. So, the first place to look is your groceries and dinner table. We will look at how and where you shop for groceries later.

One thing I'd like to say up front is that I think going without milk is a false economy. Milk provides water, fat, calcium, protein and other nutrients. Even at the $6 a gallon we pay for raw, organic, pasture raised milk (we can afford this because of how we cook and cuts costs elsewhere), this works out to about $0.75 a pound. We get four gallons a week. If you're buying the standard $4 a gallon milk, this is now about $0.50 a pound. That's not a bad investment for keeping your children hydrated (my children drink more liquid when they drink milk) at the same time as providing fat, calcium and protein that they need. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, it also fills them up, while giving nutrition, at a much cheaper price than most foods. The rule in our house is that the children can drink as much milk as they want with their meal, but their last glass has to be water. This ensures that they get water with every meal, as well as clearing their throat of the milk film before they get up from the table. Of course, they are able and encouraged to drink water any time at all. Back to making things from scratch.

How many things do you buy that are ready made? How many of those things could you make from scratch? With a few exceptions, making something from scratch saves you money. It does cost you in time, but there are ways to minimize that. For instance, many things take basically the same amount of time regardless of how much is made. So, make the most you can store and you have maximized the time you have spent on that task. If you use helper appliances like a slow cooker or a bread machine, your input is minimal, and the machine basically works for you, while you do other things. The bonus is that you can make food that is more healthful, has fewer preservatives, fewer additives and is made to the tastes/needs of your family. Immediately, you are now shopping in the outer sections of the grocery store, produce, dairy, meats, bulk foods. Ingredients. Generally speaking, this will save you money right off the bat.

That cream of whatever soup? Make a bechamel sauce, remember the ratio of 1 tablespoon of fat (butter/oil/lard) and 1 tablespoon of flour to 1 cup cream/milk (you can reduce this amount if you split it with broth), and add any seasonings or flavorings you like. Pancake mix? Flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, eggs, fat, milk. Even better, take the recipe you like and mix up the dry ingredients in an airtight container, and scoop into it each time you want to make pancakes, only adding the eggs, fat and milk. Taco seasoning/spice mix/herb blend? Stock up on herbs and spices and mix them as you like, or make your own pre-made mixes. There are tons of recipes online for things like this. I am a big fan of used bread machines and making your own bread at home.

If you need step by step instructions for anything like this, or have recipe questions, please feel free to comment or e-mail me to ask, and I will post separately as soon as possible In fact, I think I'd like the challenge, tell me what kind of instant foods do you normally buy and I'll see if I can come up with a from scratch way that tastes good and costs less. You will be buying ingredients instead of meals, you will be closer to the whole grains and foods that everyone recommends, and your bill will be lower.

Of course, this means a little more time planning, too. Some of you may read my menu plans, or some of the many posted over at I'm an Organizing Junkie. These are a great way to stick to a budget, make sure you have a plan for the vegetables and meats you pick up at the grocery store, and keep yourself from picking up a pizza, fast food, getting frozen dinners or boxed meals. One quick look at it and you know what needs to be prepared ahead, what needs to be started early or thawed out or whatever. One way to cut down on time is to do something that is time consuming in a larger quantity and store the excess. Need to cook beans? Cook three times as much as you need and freeze the rest. Make your oatmeal, grits, cream of wheat or farina in the crockpot over night, so it is ready to serve in the morning. Faster and cheaper than boxed cereals and healthier for you. When you hard cook eggs, make twice as much and you'll have enough for lunches, the next day's breakfast or deviled eggs. How about that lasagne or chili your family likes? What about those enchiladas? Make a double or triple batch, and freeze the rest. You'll have a healthy, inexpensive, ready to heat frozen dinner for those nights when you are wiped out, or if someone you know has a baby, or is just home from the hospital. I do invest in those oven safe plastic pans and foil pans for this purpose and wash and re-use them.

We make our own bread, preserves, jams, jellies, pickles, relishes, cookies, cakes, pies, desserts, muffins, biscuits, scones, granola, mayonaisse and yogurt. We've taken it a step further and keep poultry and bees and raise a part of the food we eat. Our chickens and ducks turn kitchen waste into eggs. It's the best recycling system we have going here.

Food is not the only place to look if you want to make it yourself. We make our own laundry detergent, fabric softener, glass and all purpose cleaner and bleach spray (1 1/2 teaspoons bleach to 2 3/4 cups or 22 oz water).

If you need some frugal meal ideas please see these other posts of mine:

Frugal Main Dishes
Lentil Soup
Hamburger Stew
Frugal Side Dishes & Dessert

Over this series, I will focus largely on groceries, food, gas and entertainment. There are many other areas in which to be frugal, but these are the easiest to begin with and still feel comfortable. If this is new to you, please start small, get used to the habit and move on from there. I hope this post has been helpful to you, my next post on this subject will deal with shopping wisely.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Hand Tossed Pizza



Imagine, if you will, a pizza with a creamy, garlicky ricotta-basil base, with marinated shrimp and zucchini scattered over it and covered with shredded mozzarella. Now, imagine that my ricotta had gone bad in the fridge, our basil plant finally died and there was only really expensive farmed shrimp at the store. What would you do?



If you had any memory left, you would make the gruyere, ham and onion pizza that you've been meaning to make for over a year. Or perhaps, inspired by the pineapple, peppers and onions you want to use anyway, you'd make some sort of sweet and sour sauce and make a Chinese take-out inspired pizza. Not I. I made garlic, pepperoni and olive for our main pizza. Then I made a pineapple, pepper, onion and olive pizza for me (and the children). A third pizza was half of each.

Our challenge was to take Peter Reinhart's recipe for pizza dough, use it exactly as written, and attempt to hand toss at least one of the pizzas. Rich got some video of me kneading, but only stills of me tossing. I fully expected to have some pictures of me picking dough out of my hair. Instead, it actually worked!



This is probably baking heresy, but I'm not all the way sold on the dough recipe, though it was a good one. We still really like my recipe, but this was good. I was skeptical about the method, and how well the dough would handle, but it was beautiful, soft and pliable, and worked perfectly. So, I think I will try the cold water and refrigerator rise using my recipe and see if it improves the texture at all.

The dough recipe said that it made six pizzas (9-12"), people were saying how much dough this made, so I expected to be putting some dough away for later. When I saw that the recipe used only 4 1/2 cups of flour, I knew it would just be dinner. We made three normal sized pizzas which left two small pieces after our family of seven eaters dug in. Yasmina got her share in her milk that night. I made the sauce out of canned diced tomatoes, garlic, dried oregano, dried thyme, some salt and red pepper. I used the stick blender to puree it. We shredded some fresh mozzarella (from frozen) and parmesan for the cheese topping.

Since I have a pizza peel, I used that to get the pizzas into the oven and onto the stone, rather than the back of a jelly roll pan. It seemed to work fine that way. I made sure there was enough cornmeal on the peel and just shook it off onto the stone.

All in all we were satisfied. It was tasty, the crust crisped nicely, especially using our round stone in a 500 degree oven. The timing was just about perfect on the baking, too.

Rich was certainly happy. He's a pizza lover, and I had been planning on making this as a surprise for him when he returned from a trip Saturday night (he knew I was making it this month, but not when), instead it was dinner Monday night. He's been excitedly waiting for this challenge to be completed since I told him what my task was this month. He even helped put the toppings on them.



Thank you to Rosa from Rosa's Yummy Yums for hosting this month! This was a fun and tasty challenge and has given me great ideas for how to make other pizzas at home. We make most of our pizzas, so it was a good exercise for me.



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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Favorite Pie



I made an apple-quince pie with vanilla this weekend. It was incredible! We ate it up in two days.

We trade eggs for fruit with a couple in the area, and he brought a couple to Rich's office for us. He didn't know how much I love quince, but when he found out he said he'd bring a bag of them for us. Yay! I am excited to get cooking. I'm thinking quince preserves and jelly, and another pie, this time all quince.

If you aren't familiar with quince, they are an autumn fruit. They are like very firm, very tart apples, with a floral scent and flavor. Though you can eat them raw, they will make you mouth feel like cotton, so it is best to cook them. I love the smell of them and look forward to their arrival every fall.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Jumbo? Only in a House of Mirrors.

Since when has 26-30 count shrimp been jumbo? I think that was still considered medium, and I'm pretty sure it was small when I was growing up. And yet an ad circular this week described their sale shrimp this way. Either way, it is too small and was farm raised in Asia, so I won't be buying it. Which is too bad, because I was hoping to get shrimp to marinate and put on one of our pizzas.

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Menu Plan Monday: October 27

I switched some dinners around this past week and we ended up moving two to this week. Last night we had salami sandwiches on the leftover black bread from making slow cooker choucroute garni. There is a picture of peppers in the ingredients, but it isn't listed or in the instructions, so we didn't put them in. I used hard apple cider instead of the gin, because we had it, and because I don't like gin. It was great that way, but I think I would use calvados next time to compare. I did use the smoked pork chops and was able to get apple smoked bacon and it was wonderful.

I was going to have the pizza and a pie or two ready for Rich when he came home Saturday from the airport, I forgot one of the steps for the pizza dough, so I put that off for another day, but was still working on pie. The crusts were chilling and the apples were peeled and cored and ready to be mixed up. He outsurprised me though. Around the time when his plane was supposed to land, he called my cell phone. I was excited, and told the children it was probably him calling to tell us he was on the ground. So, I answered all aflutter and he said that they hadn't been able to make the 5:30 plane. I instantly deflated. I asked what happened, and tried not to sound too sad. He said it was because they got on the earlier plane, and he was in town already. Because of the shuttle schedules, this meant he was in town two hours before we expected him! He said they almost made a flight an hour earlier than that, but one of the guys lost his wallet with his ID in the rental car, so they had to go back to the rental place to get it. I told him he'd ruined my surprise by coming so early.

Anyway, I zipped out the door, my in-laws hung up the welcome home signs the children made, and I tried to rush to the hotel. I had to get out of the car no fewer than three times closing doors, since the children had been playing in the car, and had "shut" the doors just enough so that they appeared that way, but weren't. Except for the automatic sliding door and my door, I had to get every other door. So, I raced off and met him at the hotel and brought him home to eat the choucroute garnie I had made instead that night and we finished making the pie together that night. We've made a couple pies this weekend.

If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Finished Object Friday: Remarkably Little

I had forgotten when I was setting my goals for preserving that Rich was going to be gone most of this week. So, I made about six quarts of apples sauce, which is almost all eaten now, and the juice for making jelly (which I'm hoping to do tonight). I still haven't done the apple pie freezer bags, or the canned apples, and I would like to make more apple sauce. Because I still have a ton of apples. We haven't eaten any apple pie, apple crisp or apple fritters either, though I think that might change this weekend, because the in-laws will be here to help out or wrangle the children so I can do that.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nourishing and Frugal: Fall Foods

There's another carnival going on at the Nourishing Gourmet. I thought I'd add what we ate for dinner tonight to the list.

I lived on hamburger stew many a time while I was in college. A big pot, some bread and or salad, and you had a good, nourishing, tasty meal. The next day, I added some water or a few extra vegetables and ate it some more. This could last me a week when I was single. It does seem to be a little like the never ending pot, and is perfect for a family trying to live frugally. If you don't want to eat it all week, make up a big pot, eat it for dinner, add a little more liquid and freeze the rest for another time.

There isn't really a recipe for this. There are a few things I always put in it, but it is pretty flexible and can work with whatever you have and fits your tastes. Tonight, I left out the potato/squash/turnip/rutabaga portion, because we had so much of everything else and didn't add any of the optional things.

Hamburger Stew

1 pound ground beef
Any combination of onion, garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions that you like - I tend to use an onion and five cloves of garlic
About a pound of peppers/celery/carrots used singly or in any combination
About a pound of peeled and cubed potatoes/winter squash/turnips/rutabagas in any combination you wish
About 2 cups of cooked beans (canned or cooked from dry)
About 2 cups of chopped greens such as kale/cabbage/chard/spinach in any combination
2 cans diced or stewed tomatoes (home canned is best, but store bought works fine)
Liquid to cover - any combination of water/bean broth/tomato sauce/meat broth will work
1 bay leaf
Oregano
Thyme
A little basil
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
About half a pound of corn/summer squash/peas/green beans (optional)

We buy locally raised, pastured beef, so I don't ever drain the fat. I brown the meat, add the onions and cook until they are translucent, add the garlic and any veggies that benefit from a little browning and pre-cooking. Then I add in the cooked beans, the greens, the tomatoes, stir it up and add the liquid, herbs, salt and pepper. I bring everything to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook it just long enough to soften the vegetables. If I'm adding the optional, quick cooking vegetables, this is when I do it. I taste to season it, and serve with bread, cornbread, salad, or whatever we have around (like applesauce!).

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Since When?

I was reading someone's review of the new Twilight series of vampire books. She was concerned because it seemed there was a pro-teen abstinence agenda in the books.

??!!

No matter what one might think about the merits of abstinence only education, how or whether morals should be taught, etc, it seems to me that encouraging abstinence in children (even teenagers) is not actually bad. We encourage them not to drink, even while knowing that many will do so anyway and nobody talks about how dangerous it is to teach them it is better not to do so. Likewise with smoking, illegal drugs, etc. There is no other issue on which our position is "Well, they're going to do so anyway, so why tell them anything different?"

Anyway, I cannot fathom a line of thinking that is so disturbed by the possible hint that maybe teen abstinence is a positive. That maybe it should be encouraged. I do not see the same kind of concern about the young adult fiction that celebrates promiscuity openly, but an undercurrent of pro-teen abstinence is somehow dangerous.

Day is night indeed.

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Menu Plan Monday: October 20

The last half of last week was rearranged six ways from Sunday, so I have a few menu repeats here. We're still deep into preserving and cooking apples. I'm hoping to be finished by the end of the week, but our schedule at home this week is also weird. It's nice to be able to use so much fresh food from the garden still, even in the last part of October.
If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Up to Our Elbows in Apples

So, our menus since Wednesday have been way off. You will definitely be seeing a couple of our meals repeated next week. Which is good, it will give my outlaws a chance to taste them. Dinner tonight is going to be long on cooking and short on attention, so I can keep up with the apples.

Now let's say that someone has over 100 pounds of apples to process and eat. Let's further say that said person is making applesauce. If said person has chickens who normally eat the peelings and bits cut out of apples, don't do it this time. Save the peelings and cores (except the really bad parts and buggy bits, those can go to the chickens, or to the compost bin if you have no chickens), and put them in a pot with enough just enough cold water to cover it, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and cover and simmer to get the juice out. Strain it and use the juice to make jelly, give the mash to the chickens (make sure they are out on grass and get lots of greens and vegetable peelings that day as well), add the juice of a lemon or two if it isn't tart enough and ad about 3/4 cup of sugar to each cup of juice. Make your jelly, you won't need any pectin, because of all the pectin in the apple, but it will take longer than added pectin does. Seal as per normal. Another thing. If you want rosy colored apple sauce, save some of the redder, prettier peels to put on top while you simmer the apples and take it out when you mash it all up.

Today we are making applesauce, apple fruit leather, apple jelly, canned apple slices in light syrup, and apple pie filling for the freezer (just slice your apples, toss with the sugar and spices and put in freezer bags, then they are ready to make pie whenever you want. If you're really smart, you'll make pie crusts and freeze those, too). That apple pie idea was given to us from the organizers of the whole apple orchard trip. It is perfect because freezing it will burst the cell walls of the apple a little, which means you don't have to cook it as long, you can add less sugar and spice, which makes the apple taste come through as well.

I was going to make apple butter and jelly from the juice (which is how I make all fruit butters, so we get two products out of one batch of fruit), but we don't like apple butter enough to make a ton of it. What we really need is for someone to give us a few jars. Anyway, we also have some crabapple juice in the freezer from last year, so I'm going to make that into jelly as well.

This week we'll be having apple crisp, apple pie, apple turnovers, apple cake, apple muffins and so on. If after all our endeavors today, we still have a glut of apples, I'll freeze apple slices and chunks to put into desserts and quick breads throughout the winter, spring and summer. We might even dry some rings and vacuum seal them.

God is so good. We were too tired and busy with the baby to really tend our garden or go out harvesting, our berries didn't do as well this year because of all the rain, and I was thinking we wouldn't have much to put up for the winter, but here was a gift of all these apples. We are so blessed. When we are finished with the preserving, we'll have most of our Christmas presents finished as well.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Date Night

Last night, Rich and I got to go on a date. So did Yasmina. The other children stayed home with a babysitter.

Our friends at the Wurlitzer Manor hosted another silent film night. Of course, since they have the Wurlitzer, they hired an organist to play the music, Donna Parker, who was amazing. She played just the right music for each scene, flawlessly, and gave a little talk about the organ and the history of organ playing for film. If you have a chance to see the original 1920 Mark of Zorro, do it. The movie was wonderful, people even got into the booing and hissing and cheering and clapping in all the right spots. This was a great crowd. It was also nice to see priests portrayed as the good guys.

Rich worked with a pilots' and tenants' association to put this together, like the one we had a few years ago, and it was so much fun, there was pizza, a popcorn popper, salad, hors-d'oevres, sodas, lots of great people. We were able to catch up with some friends we hadn't talked to in a while and with people who hadn't had a chance to see Yasmina yet. She was perfect. Everyone around us commented that until I stood up with her during intermission, they didn't even know she was there.

After everyone left, Rich and I stayed to talk with Barbara and Raymond, and a few other friends, had some gorgeous wine, ate beautiful chocolates and just got silly telling funny stories and laughing. We needed this. Chances are that we aren't going to get another real date night until December the way our schedules and having a brand new baby are right now, so this little mini date was a treat.

We were talking the other day about how we miss going dancing together. We were going once or twice a month, and we'd like to start going once a month at least, again, but we don't think that's really feasible until January. We're just trying to plan our thoughts toward that. I realized the other day that I actually have forgotten how to do Argentine tango. And that is sad. I can do the American version just fine, but Argentine has fallen out of my head, and apparently my feet, too.

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Finished Object Friday: Harvest Time

I haven't uploaded the photos of the potatoes yet, but we've harvested pretty close to all of them now. I'm busy with stripping the last of the tomatoes to ripen indoors, the rest of the squash, onions and anything else out there we might have missed. Also in about five minutes, I'll have the best brownies ever ready to take with me to our homeschool moms group.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One of Those Days

First Yasmina got me up at 4:30 and stayed up until 5:30. Then we woke up late, because we had fallen asleep in a stupor after she fell asleep. This, of course, meant that morning prayer, breakfast and school all got pushed back. This is fine because we just go later, but it is a pain. The boys, however, had just about zero focus, and had to be reminded of things like the name of that large peninsula that sticks out into the Indian Ocean. Fortunately for all of us, we got that settled and them back on track because some bad things may have happened in the Arabian Knits family today if they hadn't (this has been ongoing for the last week). Schoolwork improved after that, but I was frazzled, trying to get dinner set up and going so it would be ready in time for our tight schedule tonight. Right now. Because we have to leave in less than an hour. However, I did things like throw half the chopped garlic into the compost, and had to get more. When I returned to the house from ballet, Cathy asked if I meant to have the ratatouille on warm. 15 minutes before I needed dinner ready. Argh! So, she called the restaurant for me and ordered fish & chips for all of us. I guess we'll eat the ratatouille later.

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Sweetness and Light



Our three youngest children getting ready for bed on Saturday night.



This is Jerome nuzzling Yasmina. There was a picture of him kissing her with her eyes open, but it was blurry.

They are so worth the work.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

14 Years on the 14th

14 years ago, Rich and I started dating. Nearly 12 years of marriage and six children later, we are still happy with that first decision.

I've shared the story of how we met and how we began dating before, so I won't repeat it, but I am thinking of serving coffee tonight. We never did have any coffee that first night, though I think Rich would have drank a whole pot if it meant staying with me.

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Apple Picking Time



I promised pictures, and here they are!

We only spent about two hours at the orchard, but we still harvested at least 100 pounds of apples (especially if you count the apples we ate). It was a gorgeous day, a sunny fall afternoon, perfect for running around an orchard. There were several local homeschooling families there we knew. Amira was thrilled to see some of their friends from homeschool PE.

I had something really funny happen. While I was talking to two other PE moms, a third was looking furtively at me and talking to someone else. She was trying to decide whether or not to speak up. You see, she recognized me and our family from my blog! Someone had passed on the url to her some time back because I was pregnant and homeschooling. She was excited to see Yasmina up close (she is a doula also). She wasn't sure whether she should say anything, though, because she didn't want to seem like a stalker.

I told her that she would only seem like a stalker if her entire reason for coming that day was to see me because she'd read about it here. Since I hadn't mentioned our going anywhere online, it would have been pretty hard to accomplish that. So, hello Sheila! (Boy, I hope I remembered your name!) And my menus this week are real! I will tell you if I change them, so you can maintain your faith in the internets. I think this is the first person I've run into who reads my blog and doesn't know me.

Here we are heading home from our lovely day. I think it is also the first time since having Yasmina that we were all in the same photo. This is the closest to normal we can all look at the same time.
It was one of three pictures taken. Jerome is scowling in it. There was one picture in which he looked pretty content, but the rest of us looked crazed and annoyed. He was upset because he wanted to be eating an apple. You know other than the seven in front of him that had his teeth marks in them and large bites taken out. The other apple. And that other one. This is completely logical and makes all kinds of sense. It's nice to be two.














I'll make up for posting a picture of Jerome looking so awful. Here he is the day before our trip to the orchard, playing with his father's beekeeping veil and hat.



So yesterday morning, I made apple waffles with some of the apples we picked. This is the first in a lot of apple cookery that will be happening here in the Arabian Knits home. Stay tuned for news of applesauce, apple pies, apple cakes, apple muffins, apple fritters, apple crumbles, apple turnovers and maybe apple butter, apple jelly and apple syrup if I can get my act together. I doubled the waffle recipe, used melted butter instead of oil, replaced the plain sugar with cinnamon sugar and served them with butter and cinnamon sugar sprinkled on top. With fried eggs from our chickens on the side. And fresh raw milk from Lilah the Brown Swiss cow. We have a good life.

One other thing made it even better. We received a phone call from Deacon Michael as we were getting ready to leave, and he said he has a move date for coming up here and the official announcement was made for his ordination to the priesthood, which is the first Sunday of Advent. The new year of the Church will begin with us having a priest again. Thank you Lord!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Questions Answered Here

Kristine asked about rice and pilafs. I was going to answer in the comments, but then thought of my 12 faithful readers, and how you may also want to know about the mysteries of rice. I do have a warning, though, because apparently Arabs have a rice cooking gene. I never knew rice was tricky until I was an adult and other people talked about it.

So, here is how I make basic white rice: put the rice in a pot, cover it with water to about a knuckle's length above the rice, add salt, oil or butter if you like, and bring to a boil, uncovered. Let it boil a minute until you see little wormholes to the bottom of the pan, but there's still lots of water, cover and reduce the heat to low, cooking for 15 minutes. edited to add: Let it sit with the heat off for a few minutes while you finish the rest of dinner. Fluff it up and serve. You can also do this with chicken broth instead of water, reducing the salt as necessary. If you really want it fluffy, rinse the raw rice in cold water and drain several times until the water runs clear. Or not. Brown rice is similar, except you need to cook it longer, about three times as long.

The most basic pilaf you can make is just to chop up some onion, finely, and saute it in butter or oil until it is tender, then stir in the rice and saute it until it releases its fragrance, then cover with liquid and salt as above and cook. From here, you can add garlic, lemon zest, herbs, spices, other vegetables, different broths, whatever you want. I tend to add garlic, peppers/celery/longer cooking vegetables and whole spices during the time I saute the onions, fresh herbs, zest, ground spices and quick cooking vegetables after I add the liquid. I sometimes add toasted pine nuts or almonds, but I do that at the very end.

I haven't made this in a while, but I used to do the whole cinnamon stick, onions, raisins and toasted nuts thing with my rice occasionally. Indian people do something similar with the aforementioned and coconut, sometimes cooking the rice in coconut milk. Use the blonde raisins for this. Iranians and Iraqis make a pilaf with a potato crust on the bottom, which is wonderful, but time consuming.

How's that for an answer?

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Menu Plan Monday: October 13

I'm hoping that this week won't be quite as hectic as last week was. We will be using a lot of our harvest in this week's meals. At some point this week we'll be making apple fritters. Also, I plan on making at least two apple pies, and freezing bags full of sliced apples with the sugar and spice in them so we can pull them out later and make apple pie on the quick. Applesauce is also on our list of things to make. You can pretty much assume we'll be eating champagne grapes and/or apples with just about every meal we have this week.

The albondigas recipe is really good. I'm sure making it with faux meatballs makes it no longer really albondigas (like making shepherd's pie with beef nullifies the name, it becomes cottage pie), but it is really tasty. I don't know what else to call it because nutball soup sounds a little crazy. Anyway, if you are interested in the recipe, I'll type it up. I got it from our former priest's wife, who got it from a vegetarian cookbook.
If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Harvest

We had a rough year here at the farm. We were late planting, the deer kept attacking, the weather wasn't cooperative. All gardeners fight bugs and weeds.

However, between the bees and certain prolific varieties we planted, we were able to harvest a ton of crookneck squash and zucchini (the plants are still producing), loads of jalapenos, many cabbages and bunches of kale (still have lots of those in the field), lots of good sized pumpkins and other winter squash, onions, herbs, tomatoes, sweet peppers, pepperoncini, a few heads of broccoli, some celery, several eggplants, snow peas, we even got one little watermelon.

Tonight, we harvested at least 150 correction: 125 pounds of potatoes with more still in the ground that we will get later (we ran out of daylight), which is about 50% of the amount we use annually. That was after coming home with about 10 pounds of champagne grapes from a fellow parishioner's garden and this afternoon's gleaning of about 100 pounds of apples from a former commercial orchard whose owners allowed us homeschooling families to pick all we wanted from noon to 5:00 today. We got there around 2:30 and headed home after two hours. These were non-sprayed apples, about 22 varieties. They were going to charge $0.40 a pound, which is an amazing deal anyway, but this morning, they decided to let people pick for free as long as we all estimated what we picked and told them.

The children had a great time eating apples and filling their bags over and over again. We were all sticky from apple juice, our legs were a little torn up from some blackberry vines, but we had a great time. I'll get pictures up as soon as I can.

This year was not as successful as we would have liked, but we've learned a lot, and we'll apply it next year. Little by little, we hope to expand our food growth so that we grow, raise or glean 75-85% of our own food. We have free sources for blackberries, blueberries and crabapples, this year apples, too. The chickens and ducks provide all our eggs and a little of our meat (very little, they're too valuable for eggs), we're almost at the point where the bees will provide all of our honey (and we are moving to using more honey as our sweetener of choice), we'd like to get turkeys, and someday move to sheep and cattle for both dairy and meat. We will continue to expand our crops and still hope to get our fruit and nut orchard started. We even have the place set out. Much of the rest we are able to trade for or buy from local farmers and gardeners, including our meat and raw milk. It's a pretty good life, really.

It's been a steep learning curve for our family, being town/city mice, but the reward is amazing. Many of our meals lately have been made entirely or almost entirely with food we've grown/raised/gleaned. If you count the food we obtain locally, it's nearly all of our meals. It is so fun to see the fruit of our labors in that way. Of course, we're working on food storage methods, also, so we can preserve as much as we can.

If you've ever thought of growing your own, I would encourage you to do it. Even if it's just a small herb garden or a few heads of lettuce, even a pot of tomatoes. There is nothing like eating what you have grown yourself. We will have much to be thankful to God for this year from our little harvest. We're a little closer to our little dream of having a farm.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sad News

I just found out that a fellow I was friends with in college (we actually went out a couple times before I met Rich) died nearly eight years ago.

I had lost touch with him shortly after we got married, and then it was a little awkward, but I have a friend who lives in the same area as he does, and she's single, and he was single, and he was a nice guy so I thought I'd introduce them. Well, that won't happen. It sounds like he drowned. At 35.

I am praying for the repose of his soul. I wish I could contact his family, even at this late date, but I didn't know them.

A friend of mine from our church in Tulsa filled me in on the changes there, and there was some really sad news there as well. So much to be praying about, so it's good to know, but a real blow. It put our situation here with our church in perspective for me, though.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Finished Object Friday: Birthday Week

So, we finished the cupcakes. Because they would have gotten stale and gone to waste otherwise. You have no idea the kind of sacrifices we make for the greater good in this house. All I have to say is that it's a good thing the boys had cub scouts, because otherwise we would have eaten way more of those cupcakes.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Family Dentistry

We had an appointment for our whole family to have our dental check ups. I think only two other people came in who were not in our family. We had two hours scheduled, so that everyone except Yasmina could have their teeth checked out. I got my biannual lecture to floss more. Flossing four times a year is a regular habit, is it not?

Rich came in a separate vehicle so he could get back to work no matter what we needed to do, and we ended up leaving him there to get his teeth finished.

So, what did we do when we got home?

Ate cupcakes, of course.

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Curses!

I mentioned this story a little while back.

We have dawdlers in our house. I firmly believe this is part of my sanctification: learning to endure people who cannot tell time. Evidently, dealing with me is their penance.

Anyway, whenever we have somewhere to go or something to do, you will find me yelling at children to hurry up. Stop dawdling! No more singing!

??

We have children who will sing bathroom songs instead of getting things done in there. I never thought I'd say that phrase either. That and don't lick your brother. There are so many things I've learned to say since having children.

Where were we?

Oh, yes. When the children were in school, the fellows up at the hangars would hear me each morning: Get in the car! Why aren't you in your seat? Get in the car! We are going to be late. What are you doing with that stick? Get in the car!

We think the guys who work near our house stay in line mostly because they are afraid of me.

So, one morning, we were getting ready to go, and I learned that Bill Cosby was right. Parents swallow their words.

Someone, who will remain nameless to protect the guilty, but who now has to wear a timer around his neck set for whatever span of time should be enough for the task at hand, was taking his sweet time getting downstairs. We're talking 20 minutes to wash his hands. I yelled upstairs:

"Get your ...pause... self downstairs this instant."

Rich looked at me and said, "I heard that."

And I answered, "But, he didn't."

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Alexander's Birthday

Today, my eldest son has reached a significant milestone. He has gone from this:

(proof that all our children look exactly alike when they are born, except maybe Elijah, but I'll have to look at his pictures again)

to this:

in just 10 years.

The little baby who used to fit in my body is now creeping up to my height. I think he's 4' 3" now. I'm only 5' 4". He is able to do so much more than he used to do. He can hold his own with just about anyone.

We are so pleased with the young man he is becoming. One day, we hope that he will have surpassed us in faith and in goodness. This is the measure of success we take.

My father called a while ago and said that he wanted Alexander to be the first Arab-American President of the United States of America. I told him we had higher aspirations for him.

Our prayer for him is that he grows to be a godly man, a good husband and father, to be satisfied with his life and to work at something that has real meaning. Anything more than that is a bonus. In some ways our aspirations are quite modest, but a quick look around at America and find that there are, sadly, few people for whom you could say those things.

10 Amazing Things About AlexanderHappy Birthday Alexander!

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Mythical Beasts

This morning's Old Testament reading was about the Shunammite woman who lost her son. We were discussing other similar examples in scripture about those people outside of the covenant showing their faith in God, often to the shame and embarrassment of the example by those who were believers. I asked the children who else they could think of who had behaved like the Shunammite woman.

Alexander replied:

"The Roman Centaur."

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Fair Thoughts

So, I feel a great need to defend our not sending the children on the rides at the fair. Aside from the expense, the last time we took them, it was something like $5.00 a ride per child. We usually let them go on three or four rides each, which adds up. Mostly, though, it has to do with this fair. It is so crowded, and we have to stand guard at the entrance and exit of each ride to make sure the children don't get lost, and keep track of the children who are too big/little to go on that particular ride at the same time.

When we go to the county fair or our local fair, there is much more freedom to let them run off to the ride they want to go to or the exhibit they want to see, or even just to race up ahead of us as we are walking together as a family, because there aren't eleventy billion people there.

This year was kind of a disappointment, too. There just wasn't a whole lot to see in terms of the exhibits. Considering it is such a huge fair, you'd think there would be tons of farm, craft, hobby, art, food, etc things to see, and there really were only a few. Also, even of the few that were there, it seemed you didn't even have to be a resident of our state to enter, so there were things from people in Oregon and other places. Most of the exhibits were commercial, as were most of the shows. There was a pioneer activity area, though, where the children could saw a log, grind wheat, sift flour, grate cinnamon, use a mezza luna type knife and bowl to cut carrots, prime a water pump and pump water, things like that, and that was cool. There were surprisingly few animals and garden areas. Probably so there would be more room for the millions of trash vendors.

Next year, we will make sure that we can go to the two smaller fairs we enjoy.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Pretty

Last week we went to some friends' to help them in the final part of moving out and cleaning their house. They are Air Force and were being sent to a new base.

Since I had to be with Yasmina, I couldn't really help in the house, so while the couple worked along with Rich and another person, I stayed on top of the children. Alexander and Dominic were able to help a little by throwing away garbage and cleaning up the yard of toys and such.

As we were getting ready to leave. Elijah sat down beside me and told me he was starting to think that girls were pretty. I asked him if there were any specific girls he found pretty, and he said he couldn't think of any. So, I asked about his sisters and what about me. We passed muster.

Me: Which girls do you think are pretty?
Elijah: You know those girls with the things hanging down, like pony tails and the two ones, what were those called?
Me: Pigtails?
Elijah: Yeah, and when they have ribbons in their hair.

I told Rich about this, and he said it's always the same, it's always about the hair.

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Menu Plan Monday: October 6


I'm almost ready to give up on the roast pork for a while. Our schedule was shifted so many ways this weekend. We didn't get our water back on in time to make the mac and cheese on Friday, so we ate fish sticks and french fries instead. Remind me never to do that again.

Sunday, we ate leftover egg and chorizo from Saturday's breakfast wrapped up as burritos. Since I hadn't managed to thaw out the pork loin, it was a good thing we had it to eat.

This week is Alexander's birthday, so he gets to choose the meal that night. He turns 10 on Wednesday, which means that we are entering double digits for the first time. We have such little time left with him at home now and it seems like there is so much more we have to give him than we have time to give.

If you want a recipe, ask and I will provide it as soon as I can.
What is on your menu this week?

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Little Emissaries

When we had our children in private, religious school, we often had people ask us (usually people who didn't know us well, weren't from our church and who had no spiritual authority over us) if we thought it was a good idea for us to keep them out of the world, since we as Christians are supposed to be salt and light and shouldn't our children of all people be out there changing the world for the Lord. We hear this even more now. How can your children evangelize if they are sheltered from the world?

Our response was and is that Jesus never sent children. He sent adults who were trained in some way or other (either explicitly or by experience). This is not to say that children cannot evangelize, or that they cannot influence the world around them, but that they should not be sent on a job for which they are not and cannot be prepared. They are not fully formed, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally or physically. Why would you send an untrained person onto a battlefield, with no armor or weapons?

It is our job to shelter our children while they are young, and slowly introduce those more difficult or confusing issues to them as they grow older and more mature. It is the responsibility of a parent to screen out those things that he does not wish his child to see or hear or know until that child is better equipped to handle them. I don't mean that somehow sending a child to school or public school means you are condemning him to some terrible fate, but I think sending them there with a mission is a terrible burden on someone who more likely than not is not ready for it.

A couple we are friends with asked us how long we planned to homeschool. We gave our standard reply: As long as it works for our family. They asked what we'd do if/when it didn't work out, and we said we'd sign them up for a private, religious school again. Public school wasn't an option to us? Nope. Aside from educational issues, aside from moral issues, aside from a whole philosophical point of view to which we don't subscribe, aside from the fact that our local school district has been on the national news twice in the last year, not for good things, and this is considered a wonderful school district, there is the fact that public schools as they are now attempt to put enmity between children and parents. They try to usurp the parental role, teach the children that the parents cannot be trusted, tell the parents they don't have a right to personal information about the child (but the school does), and that it is they (the teachers/faculty) who really know what the children need and should be trusted. We said that division, or the risk of it, was not worth it to us.

So, out came the question: How can you change that if you won't be a part of it? How can your children influence those children who need it the most, if they aren't there?

We aren't going to do the experiment with our children. Why would we risk them and their life here on earth to prove a point? Why would we send them on a mission for which they are not prepared, when their character hasn't even been formed yet? Jesus said that we were to approach Him as little children, open hearted, trusting, loyal, vulnerable. He didn't say that we were to go to the world as little children. Quite the opposite: Wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Train to Trek

Warning: This post is photo laden.

Our whole family got on the train early Saturday morning to go to NW Trek on the Train to Trek. It was so much fun!

They do this several times during the summer and early fall. We found out about it through our local homeschool group, and since we used up most of our vacation time having a baby, we figured we'd spend some of our vacation money on this trip. The cost is actually quite reasonable for what you get: the train tickets, activities and displays on the train, local authors telling about the history of the area, transportation from the train to NW Trek, entrance into the NW Trek, the tram tour and more activities on the way back with prizes. We brought our lunch to reduce our costs and because we knew we'd have better food than the park.


Here is Jerome playing on the green after lunch.

The best part was the tram, I think. It was fun to look at the exhibits there, but we really were able to see the animals on the tram tour (though we did get to see two grizzly bears wrestling while we walked around the exhibits).


This female moose walked right by the tram when we first started out.


We saw several bison. This one looked particularly nice.


I really like how the goats' eyes are glowing in this shot.


We saw both of the white tailed deer they had there. They are sterile, which is why there are only two. They have a ton of black tailed deer, apparently, but the tram driver/tour guide was surprised, because we didn't see a single one. I told Rich that was because they are all at our house, eating our roses and vegetables.


This was a picture Rich took of me and Yasmina. He likes this one a lot. Jerome's head is right next to us. Yasmina looks quite a bit like Jerome in this photo. The hands behind us are Dominic's (on the left) and Elijah's (on the right).


We saw lots of sheep and their little lambs.


This was the winning elk that day with his harem. He had been defeated on a fairly regular basis, but that morning won the clash with the other, dominant bull.


Here we are going around the lake.


This was one of the owl exhibits. Our pictures of the other owls didn't turn out as well.

The only thing that would have made this trip better would have been to have had more time at the Trek. We really only had a little over an hour to look around, what with needing to eat lunch and all. We'll have to go back sometime (driving, it's only about 45 minutes from our house) to take our time looking through the park.

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Finished Object Friday: Later than Usual

I try to have these posts ready and scheduled to go before Friday hits, since we are usually pretty busy on Fridays. However, we have had a rather hectic week, which was topped off with a day of home disasters. We had a minor one this morning with our oven not working as well as it should, then, during some landscaping in our backyard, the valve to our water main was broken, which has only now been completely fixed, so we didn't have water all afternoon and ended with a fluorescent (have I mentioned how much I despise them? Well, I do.) bulb exploding in the upstairs bedroom while Amira was in bed, leaving glass shards all over their floor, under her bed and in the bed with her. Not to mention the mercury exposure. Deeply detest them. At least, this has convinced Rich that they have no place in our home, we had been compromising on having them in places where I didn't spend much time. And, yes, I will be stocking up and buying regular bulbs by the gross for our use and so I can sell them on the black market when the nanny state outlaws them.

I did finish some food projects for saints' days, and I finally made those energy bars, which we all loved.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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