Showing posts from November, 2014

Thanksgiving Appetizers

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we are still eating our way out of several gigantic containers of leftovers. That is in no way a complaint, by the way--we're loving it.

Perhaps one of the reasons we have so much food left over this year is because we filled up on appetizers throughout the afternoon. Here's our cocktail snack spread:

That all looks perfectly reasonable, until you remember the 22-pound turkey and vat of mashed potatoes waiting in the kitchen. Any other day of the year, this would have been a light lunch.  

In addition to a nice, cured salami and several cheeses, we had bites of red and blue tart, made from some of the last Chioggia beets of the year. Chioggia beets are my favorite because they are extra sweet and not so earthy. When raw they are red and white striped, but after you roast them the colors blend into the pink you see above. Kirk went fairly light on the blue cheese, which probably pleased our younger guests.

The kids also scarfed down …

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Water Heater

This is something we've been meaning to do for years — ever since we moved here, in fact. We have a gigantic, ancient water heater in the basement, and I'm quite certain that it is responsible for most of our electric bill. So we finally got off our asses to
Turn down the water heater to 120 degrees.
Our tank is a beast: 80 gallons, which is way more than we need. It's electric, which is the least efficient thing ever. It's also 15 years old, so we're on borrowed time. We need to replace it soon, but in the meantime, this little change should save us some cash.
There's going to be a lot of rough math here, because the thermostat on the water heater looks like a child's toy:

As near as we can tell, this decal is fake, as there is no knob to turn. Instead, Kirk had to take a screwdriver and move a tiny screw inside that hole to change the temperature. The choices were 150, 125, and 90. It had been set at 125 according to the (surely inaccurate) screw, but we …

Post-Frost Harvest

After a week in which we were struggling to acclimate ourselves to the blustery cold, today we were granted a sunny, almost-warm day. It was actually pleasant to be outside again, so we wasted no time picking up the last of the leaves and cleaning up the last bits of herbs that finally died in the freezing temperatures of the past week.
We also were able to bring in a surprisingly ample post-frost harvest. There's still plenty of food out there under the cover of glass, plastic, or straw, so we should be eating well for the next few months. It may well be the last nice day, but it's not the last harvest. Here's what we brought in today:

This kale bouquet is just a small bit of what we have. A lot of the Russian kale got nipped back by the cold since we left it unprotected, but we fixed that today, and there are still a whole lot of leafy greens left for the winter.

Our last three cabbages were unaffected by the freezing weather, but won't last forever outside. The sma…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Tissues

It's that time of year again: the sniffles are upon us. Wintertime colds and (fingers crossed, not this year) flu mean an investment in several boxes of tissues, and that go us thinking about trying to skim a little off the price of those. From here on out, we plan to

Replace name-brand Kleenex with store brand tissues.

This isn't one of the biggest money-savers in the world, but it is a really easy one. It turns out the Market Basket tissues aren't too bad — a little thinner, but not terribly scratchy or rough. And since our typically wasteful children appear to use just a tiny corner of a tissue tissue before throwing it away, they probably won't notice at all. The boxes are uglier, but whatever.

The math on this involves some estimating, as I can't honestly claim to know exactly how many tissues we go through in a month. Let's say we average two boxes per month for the family (less in the summer, more in the winter).

The box of 160 Kleenex tissues are $2 eac…

Spring Chickens

As I mentioned earlier this month, our chickens are done laying for season, and we will be out of eggs until they stop molting and we can turn the light on in the coop to trick them into thinking it's spring.

Last year they all laid so well throughout the summer that I was able to freeze enough eggs to use throughout the winter molt, and we never had to buy any from the grocery store.

This past summer? Not so much. Dolley is no longer laying at all, and the other girls have slowed a bit with age. (Dolley is a Red-Star hen, and it turns out that this hybrid breed is a rock star daily layer for about 18 glorious months, but then it's over for good, which was not advertised. Luckily for her, she's the smartest, best-trained bird we have, or we might have considered her for soup.) Without her efforts, we still had plenty of eggs to eat fresh in the summer, but not enough to put up for winter. We're back to buying them at the store until we get them laying again (I'm ho…

Herbal Apothecary: Valerian Tincture

About six weeks I ago I harvested some valerian root from the garden and set it out to dry:

I had been warned by many sources that valerian smells terrible and only gets worse as it dries. I also heard that it attracts cats, but neither of these things have turned out to be true. Fletch has never even given it a sniff, despite it being at nose height for a couple of weeks.
As for the smell, it does have an odor — I just don't happen to hate it. It's very hard to describe. It reminds everyone of something, but no one can seem to place it. There's definitely a camphor scent to it — kind of turpentine-y or Mentholatum-y — that lingers in the back of your sinuses. There's also an earthy, root-y smell to it, like a medicinal version of sarsaparilla. And, sometimes, there's a whiff of stinky socks involved, but that's not ever foremost in the bouquet for me, though apparently other people find it unbearable.
Since I had two trays of roots, I decided to try two diffe…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Thermostat Adjustment, Part 2

Now that it's cold and the furnace is on for the season, we've decided to take another look at the thermostat settings. It turns out that we can comfortably

Turn down the thermostat by another 2 degrees while we're at home.

As you may recall, turning down the thermostat to save some money on our heating bills was our very first Trim the Fat Tuesday exercise. Since then, though, we've insulated the house, and that has made an enormous difference in our comfort level. This house used to be a drafty wreck, but now it's consistently comfortable. No longer are the upstairs bedrooms a full 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house, and our November heating oil top-off was under 25 gallons, which is far less than what it's been in the past. All this plus an oil price of just $2.89 per gallon (for now, anyway) bodes well for this winter.

I should note that the insulation did right by us in the summer, too. We never even bothered to put in the window A/C, so that'…

Kids' Corner: Chicken Pot Pie

Something magical happened last weekend. Tiegan got a cookbook out at the library on Saturday morning and announced that she would be preparing dinner on Sunday. She did, and it was delicious. Check out her adaptation of a chicken pot pie from The Children's Baking Book by Denise Smart.
Making the Pie
1. I made a creamy sauce with butter, flour, chicken stock, milk, sour cream, and spices. I chose salt, pepper, and dried savory and oregano from the garden.
2. I cooked the chicken in a frying pan with some oil and chopped onions. They made me cry a lot.

3. I mixed the cooked chicken, frozen peas, and frozen corn into the sauce. 
4. I divided the mixture into four individual pie dishes and let it cool for a little bit.
5. I cut out puff pastry circles and put them over the dishes. 
6. I put them in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

The original recipe had ham in it and no corn, but everybody enjoyed it anyway. It wasn't too hard to make, and I would make it again.

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Gift Budget

With the holidays coming up, now is the perfect time to take a look at our budget for gift-giving. Luckily for us, this past summer our children (at the time, ages 10 and almost 12) finally admitted that they no longer believe in Santa Claus.

Woohoo! That frees us up to

Cut Santa presents out of the gift budget.

During our conversation, it became clear that these slightly greedy little children haven't believed in Santa Claus for some time now, but were afraid to come clean about it. Not because they were worried about hurting our feelings or ruining Christmas for the other sibling, though. Nope. The motivation here was straight-up fear that the gravy train of an extra present was over.

And they were right.

Being Santa for the last decade was fun, but also increasingly challenging. Check out a fairly recent letter to Santa from the oldest:

As you can see, requests are either incredibly hard to find (thanks for the weird flute, eBay guy!), or on the expensive side. I know that this…


November always strikes me as the end of something. The World Series is over and baseball is done for the year, despite my best efforts to hang on to summer. Halloween and its accompanying burst of creativity is past. Daylight Saving Time has finally ended, thrusting us headlong into the dark days. Temperatures have dipped below freezing, ending the active growing season and leaving us casting about for something to do in the garden besides peeking under the tunnels and raking up leaves.
Although we haven't technically had a frost, we did have some snow yesterday, so our remaining summer fruits are dead and gone. This was our last harvest basket:

Tonight we ate the very last fresh tomato (in salsa form). There are no more cucumbers, and the supply of peppers and jalapeños is dwindling. We still have some eggplant, but Saturday's eggplant parm luncheon had some bitter bites, and we had so much of it this year that I think we might just compost the last few on the counter as th…