Showing posts from February, 2014

Celery and Parsley From Seed

The polar vortex is at it again this week, but we can't let that stop us from getting ready for spring planting! This year we are trying some new pants from seed: celery and parsley. In the past we have always bought transplants at a local nursery, but it's been getting hard for us to find celery. (You can get it in Methuen at Pleasant Valley Gardens — an awesome nursery, but a little far to go for just one six-pack.) So I bought some seed to give it a go on our own this year.
We've avoided it until now because celery and parsley are considered pretty difficult to start from seed. Take a look at how tiny they are, and you start to get an idea why:

That's celery seed in my hand; parsley is a little bit bigger. Parsley is so picky that they recommend soaking it overnight in warm water, so I did:

Since we hardly need a whole flat full of celery or parsley, I decided to start these in some seed starting pellets instead. They are fun and easy to use, and make planting a fe…

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The On-Screen Entertainment

A little over a year ago, when we had to deal with all kinds of utility companies to take down wires for some tree removal, we ended our relationship with Verizon and switched to Comcast for our cable and internet. Their service is marginally better, and their internet was way faster than what we could get through Verizon, since Newburyport doesn't get FiOS. 
We had been enjoying a discounted rate, but that ended back in December, which prompted me to see if I could find any better deals for our various screen-time needs (er, wants).
Shop for better cable, internet, and online streaming deals.
First, I did a little research before calling Comcast. Lots of sources online articles suggested that it's pretty easy to get a discount on cable service from them if you just ask nicely (and maybe toss in the idea that you're thinking of switching to Verizon). 
We have really cheap cable to begin with: Basic Limited costs us just $11.48 per month for the bottom 20 channels or so. I …

Spinach, Bacon, and Mushroom Salad

As I mentioned yesterday, we were super-excited to find our winter salad greens alive and well in the cold frames this past weekend. In addition to enjoying them on burgers and sandwiches, we also had a much-awaited fresh salad with Sunday dinner:

So much green on this plate! We had sautéed chicken, steamed (formerly frozen) green beans with toasted pecans, and our spinach salad.
Since it's been such a long, salad-free winter for us, the spinach would have been delicious to us if we had just eaten it raw and plain, but Kirk dressed it up to be extra-delectable with bacon and mushrooms. The salad was mostly spinach, but also had some mache and kale thrown in for good measure. The greens are topped with sliced, sautéed mushrooms, big bits of bacon, and toasted pecans. The dressing was a vinaigrette made with bacon fat leftover from frying the bacon, plus vinegar and a bit of dijon mustard. 
Very rich with all that bacony goodness, and even better with the additional savory mushroom…

Alive and Well Beneath the Snow

We had a lot of melting this weekend, thanks to bright sunshine and temperatures in the 50s. 
The 50s!
It would appear that I have fully acclimated to life as a New Englander. When we first moved here 16 years ago, I would shiver in my car in the mornings, and end up with cramps in my legs from all the tension in my muscles trying to ward off the cold. For real.
Now I find that with the right gear (fleece, ski jacket, lined hat, lined boots, insulated and waterproof gloves), I can shrug off all but the worst of the polar vortex like a native.
But the real sign that I've acclimated? I didn't even glance at most of those items today. It was just shy of 40 degrees outside when I left the house yesterday morning, but the sun was out, and a fleece and sneakers  (and regular clothes, of course) were plenty to enjoy a good long hike around town today. 
I ended up taking off the fleece about halfway through.
I'm not the only one enjoying the sudden warmth. Look what I found outsi…

Herbal Apothecary: Stovetop Potpourri

Fish is healthy. It's also sometimes smelly. While I enjoyed our fish dinner last night, I wasn't too keen on the lingering fishy smell I woke up to this morning.
Sigh. It happens to the best of us, right?
It's way too cold to open a window to take care of it, so I went for a quick, homemade air freshener instead. Behold my improvised potpourri:

This couldn't be easier: cut up some citrus (I had a navel orange and a lemon we had previously zested, languishing in the fridge), add some spices (I used whole cloves, a cinnamon stick, some cardamom pods, and a healthy dash of nutmeg, but could easily have added rosewater, dried lavender, or rosemary instead for a more spring-time aroma). As it is still winter, this was just the thing.
The only other step is to cover the fruit and herbs with water and summer on the stove. As the steam rises, it makes your house smell delicious! Totally got rid of our lingering fish smell, and made the kids hungry to boot. If the water boils…

A Sign of Spring

Another day, another six or eight inches of snow. This brings our snow pack on the ground to somewhere around 18-20 inches, as you can see by looking at the roof of the chicken coop:

It's more like 2-3 feet in the front yard, where every fruit tree's trunk is covered up to where it begins to branch out. It's a lot of snow, and I'm looking forward to the warm temperatures (almost 50 degrees? Bring it!) and melting we're supposed to get for the next few days.
Since our coop is built better just about as well as a regular-people house, I'm not inclined to take a roof rake to it. The snow will actually help insulate it and keep the chickens a little warmer in there for the next couple of weeks. 
And, despite what look to be frigid, wintery working conditions, the ladies are laying again! As I mentioned last week, Sally started on the first day we turned the light back on, and she hasn't missed a day since. Not far behind her was Abigail, who is also laying reg…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Payroll Deductions

Ok, I'm kind of obsessed.

I've now been regularly looking at our budget to find places to cut some easy money. By regularly, I mean almost every day. I made a fun spreadsheet that uses math to show how much we spend per month, per year, and how that factors out over the next 20 years until retirement. I can play with the numbers to see how much a cut here or a little trim there affects the bottom line not only for right now, but also over the long term. I also have it arranged to add our savings up, and there's a special box that shows how much is still needed until we can retire.

Right now, that's a big, giant number, but every cut makes it go down by more than you'd think, as the savings accrue each month and over the years.

It's totally addicting to test out new numbers in those boxes.

Anyway, one area that's not really part of our budget (because it's kind of invisible) is the various payroll deductions that come off the top of our checks every pay…

Getting Creative With Winter Veggies

During the winter (thanks to our No Buying Veggies Challenge), the variety of available food is way down. We are out of onions and sweet potatoes, and our greens are buried under several feet of snow. We still have a bunch of fresh pumpkins and butternut, potatoes, and leeks, plus frozen green beans, okra, and sundried tomatoes. That's just about it, except for various herbs and some dried peppers to spice things up. 
So ... what to do? You can only eat roasted vegetables so many times before you get a little tired of them, not matter how tasty they are. Luckily for us. Kirk came up with some creative dishes this week to breathe some new life into our winter staples.

Spicy Pumpkin Bisque
1 small pumpkin (the baking kind)  1 head of garlic, broken into cloves  1 Tbs. olive oil 1 cup heavy cream 2 Tbs. Peanut butter 1 small leek Salt, pepper, cayenne, and ground chipotle to taste
1. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and set seeds aside. Place garlic cloves (unpeeled) in …

Winter Pear Galette

Remember our pear harvest? I don't blame you if you don’t — it was a tiny crop of just five Anjou pears. They have been in cold storage since we picked them back in September.
As I suspected we would, we kind of forgot about them in the crisper drawer.
Now, pears are meant to last a long while in cold storage. In fact, they need to be held at low temperatures for several weeks before eating to help them ripen properly. 
Still, they don't require almost five months in the fridge. This was made obvious by the bruised spots on them when I took them out last weekend. We lost one outright, and most of the rest had at least one soft spot. 
Lesson learned for next year — start eating pears in December. And figure out a way to keep them from rolling around in the crisper drawer to avoid bruising as much as possible.
Despite this stumble, our pears were usable and delicious. I'm not a fan of eating pears raw, but they are great in baking. To wit:

Kirk cut the soft spot off o…

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Insurance Review

Our homeowners policy comes due at the very end of the year (timing very much appreciated by my hyper-organized self), and usually we just throw it in the filing cabinet, throw the outdated one in the recycling bin, and call it good.

In fact, this is exactly what we did, until a couple days later I remembered that it involves money, and could be a painless place to save some cash. An on-the-fly goal:

Review insurance policies for places to save money on unnecessary coverage.

So I pulled the paperwork back out of the filing cabinet and had a look. And you know what? Our deductible is only $1,000. We can definitely handle more than that out-of-pocket if something bad happens (which is pretty unlikely anyway, right?), so we upped it to $2,500. This is also a strong incentive to keep the savings cushion intact at a higher level, now that we are (slightly) more responsible for insuring ourselves.

Inspired, I also looked over the car insurance. Turns out we were paying collision on an almos…

Egg-citing Update!

Although Sally held on and laid up until early December, our chickens haven't been laying for the past eight or ten weeks. That's perfectly normal in the wintertime — chickens' hormones are triggered by the amount of daylight they are exposed to, and they commonly stop laying during the dark days of winter. We didn't give them any light-adjustment therapy this year to keep them laying, because they needed to molt. Dropping feathers is also a process dictated by daylight, and once they stop laying in the fall, they divert their protein reserves to producing new feathers. It's too hard on the birds to make eggs and feathers at the same time, so this winter they've been experiencing real darkness while their new feathers come in.

Our "Easter-Eggers" (Abigail and Martha) molted early, while Sally (a Barred Rock) and Dolley (a Red Star) didn't start until January. Dolley was the last to do so, and is still not quite finished (though she's close — …

Spiced Peach Jam Roly-Poly

There are few things I love more than the Olympics. I love all of it: the athletes' stories, the countries, the opening ceremonies, the anthems, the sports. And I love the Winter Olympics best of all. 
(My dad has a theory about that: All the Winter Olympics sports are so fast and looks so fun … and completely unlike all the Summer Olympic track and field sports that we sucked at in school.)
Anyway, we celebrated the Sochi opening ceremonies this weekend with an Olympic Potluck. Guests brought a dish from the country of their choice, and we all got to sample an international feast while we watched the Russians put on a crazy show to start the games.
We decided to represent the UK, which we did with a dessert tray:

We made one dessert from each of the four parts of the United Kingdom: shortbread from Scotland, Welsh cakes from Wales, jam roly-poly from England, and Guinness and Bailey's cupcakes from Northern Ireland. (That last one's a bit of a cheat, but I don't thin…

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The School Lunches

At our kids' school, like most schools nowadays, bullies stealing your lunch money has become obsolete. Everyone has an ID number hooked up to a debit account that's charged automatically at the end of the lunch line. Our school happens to use, and they email us when the account balances are low so the kids don't starve. Then I add some money with a few clicks on the keyboard, and we're good.

Sounds nice and convenient, right?

Too convenient. I haven't been paying close attention, and it turns out they're eating us out of house and home! We definitely need to

Cut all cafeteria desserts and pack lunch one day per week.

I mean, just check out last week's totals:

So a regular school lunch costs $2.75 a pop, and since the kids have become less picky eaters, they are happy to buy lunch every single day. Turns out they've been double-dipping on desserts too, treating themselves to a cafeteria cookie every day on our dime and then having a des…

Herbal Apothecary: Soothing Cough Syrup

For the last ten days, we've been in the land of influenza. Well, one of us has, anyway:

There's just not much to be done about the flu except to stay in bed (with or without a cat to keep you company). Trouble is, this flu came with a really terrible cough, which would keep the patient awake, making all that rest a lot harder to get.
Of course we have regular cough medicine, and our children prefer its sugary "grape" flavor to my homemade cough syrup.
The adults, on the other hand, are psyched about our new, all-natural cough syrup. It's based on a recipe I found here, but I also added turmeric. (Turmeric milk is a traditional cold remedy in India, so the turmeric here gives this cough syrup an extra little boost.) The acidic vinegar cuts through phlegm, and the honey coats and soothes an irritated throat. The cayenne has lots of capsaicin, which blocks pain receptors and stops the tickle, and the ginger and turmeric are antiseptics with useful medicinal proper…