Monday, November 26, 2012

Caring For Poinsettias

It is the time of year when most people bring home a poinsettia plant along with other Christmas treasures. Did you know that poinsettia plants can live for years?  There isn't any need to toss it when the Christmas season is over. It really doesn't take much effort to care for a poinsettia plant all year long. You can even condition them to turn red (white/pink) next year! It isn't hard. My house is a cornucopia of poinsettia plants.  I have them everywhere in all sizes!  My two oldest plants are about 6 years old and they are over 3 feet tall.  I conditioned mine to turn red for this Christmas. Here is a picture of one of them.

Here are some tips to keep your poinsettia plants healthy for the Christmas season and beyond:
  • Poinsettia plants like to be cool.  This is easy to accomplish - place them in front of a window! I have found (in the fall and winter) if you live where it snows, give the plant as much direct sunlight as possible. In Florida, or out in the southwest (like Arizona or Texas), place them back a bit from the window or put them outside for the Christmas season!  Morning sun is best when the plant is outside.
  • Poinsettia plants like to be moist. Most commercial grower tags say to water when the top of the dirt feels dry. In my opinion, if you do that the plant will die from lack of water.  The issue here is you need to know exactly what 'dry dirt' means. Most people don't. A better way to describe it is when you touch the dirt, you should see the moisture on your finger and/or your finger should feel damp. If that doesn't happen, the plant is too dry. Consistently moist soil will keep your plant looking good all season (and all year) long!  I must also caution you not to let the plant sit in standing water either - that will kill the plant too. I water my poinsettia plants about every 4 days. Then, I go back to the plant a few hours later and remove any excess water.
  • When Christmas is over, you can move the plant to an out of the way place if you are tired of looking at the red leaves. I like to look at mine so I leave them on display all winter.  If you move them, put them in a place that gets some sunlight. Or, you can put them in a place that gets bright indirect light all day.  Either one will work. Do not fertilize the plant at this point. Continue to keep the soil moist.
  • In late spring when the nighttime temperatures stay above 55 degrees, you can put the poinsettia plant outside for the summer. Morning sun is best. When I put mine outside they get sun until about 12:30. You can repot the poinsettia if you would like. (They should be repotted about every 2 to 3 years anyway.) When you place it outside, you can start feeding it.
  • Keep the plant outside all summer and let it grow new lush green leaves. While the plant is outside, continue to feed it on a regular basis. In the heat of the summer, you may need to water the plants daily.
  • In the fall, when the night time temperatures drop to about 55 degrees, bring the plant back inside. This is a good time to spray it with insecticide to prevent it from bringing bugs into the house. I usually spray mine with a homemade insecticide made from tobacco. To condition the plant to turn red (or white or pink) for Christmas, the plant must NOT be exposed to any artificial light in the house after the sun sets. The extra hours of darkness are what tell the plant to turn the leaves red. In my house, I accomplish this task by placing the plant in my guest bedroom. At the end of the day when the sun starts to set, I shut the door to that room so the artificial light from the rest of the house does not shine on the poinsettia. I have read in a few books that you only need to do this for about 2 weeks. Based on my experience, the conditioning is needed for about 60 days. I condition mine from September 15 to November 15th. (Remember, your home is not a professional greenhouse with exact controls on the lighting. In a greenhouse, the conditioning time may be as little as 2 weeks. In your home, the extra conditioning time is needed because a home has less than ideal circumstances.) For example, if I turn the hallway light on, light will shine under the door exposing the plant to trace amounts of artificial light. In addition, sometimes I forget to close the door at sundown. Sometimes I forget to close the door at all!  These little imperfections in the conditioning require that you treat for 60 days to get good results. No worries though, it really only takes about a week or two to make shutting the door a daily habit. For all your work, you will be rewarded with beautiful plants next Christmas!
Whether you wish to keep your poinsettia plant all year or not, follow these tips and you can have beautiful plants anyone would be proud of! 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Today is Black Friday

I hate shopping.  It doesn't matter what it is for, I hate shopping. So as you can guess, I have never in my life, gone shopping on Black Friday. That is, until today

My husband and I got up at 5 a.m. and out the door we went.( I was grumbling the entire time about how obscene it was to get up early just to purchase something.)  Why did we go?

Well, we need new kitchen appliances.  The big ones, the ones that need electricity.  We purchased our current appliances new when we bought the house.  Neither the refrigerator nor the dishwasher work correctly any more. Over the 12 years that we have owned them, we have had the repair man out at least twice for each appliance. I was not going to pay $350 to $400 for a repair order for each appliance again. The refrigerator was my biggest concern, it won't keep things cool and the milk and cheese keep going bad.  It has been this way for about 6 months. The ice maker hasn't worked in over 3 years. My response has been that we will just do what the pioneers did and that is not to need to refrigerate much. If you plan meals carefully you can eliminate the need to refrigerate leftovers.  For example, when I make cheese, my plan was to just make enough for the recipe or for the pizza or whatever and then I won't need refrigeration.  Well, with a busy life it isn't always possible to spend so much time making this stuff every day, on demand, when you need it. If I loose electricity I know I can compensate for it by using ideas I wrote about here. However, if and when I ever loose electricity, I won't be as busy as I am now (work, church, appointments and such). I know it will be possible to live without the refrigerator then.  It isn't now. I had resigned myself to the fact that we need a new refrigerator.

The dishwasher is a different story. I tend to wash dishes by hand.  My thoughts usually lead to the fact that I can do it quicker then the dishwasher and it will save electricity and water.  My husband has a different point of view. He always reminds me that he likes living in the 21st century!  He frequently uses the dishwasher. So, a new dishwasher went on the list too.

We started comparison shopping a few weeks ago. I wanted control knobs, not computerized buttons on the appliances. Computerized panels tend to break and need replacing.  Do you know how hard it is to find appliances without computer chips in them?  We looked at a lot of appliances, price shopped and asked about Black Friday deals.  We narrowed each choice down to two models at two different stores.

This brings me back to this morning. I was dreading the trip to the stores. I thought hordes of people would be out shopping. (We have all seen the pictures on the news of people fighting over deals. I didn't want to be part of it.) 

Well, was I surprised!  While there was traffic on the streets, there wasn't anyone in the appliance section of any of the stores we went to.  The parking lots were not full, we parked  the car and walked right in.  It looked like a normal weekday shopping event - except for the fact it was 5 a.m. We were waited on right away and all the sales people were extremely nice. Our new appliances will be delivered next week!  We saved money too because we got Black Friday deals!

Overall, it was a fairly pleasant experience. I think it took too much time to research everything but because we did, we made informed choices. It wasn't crowded this morning and we got a good deal on each appliance. We were home in about 1 hour. My overall impression is that the Black Friday crowds are a bit of an overstatement of the news media, at least at 5 a.m. they are. 

I don't plan to ever go out again on a Black Friday, I still hate shopping. However, if I find myself needing another large item, the deals you can get on Black Friday are something to consider!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's Turkey Day!

It is Thanksgiving here in the US! The start of the Christmas season and my most favorite time of year!

Let's all pause to give thanks to our Heavenly Father for all the blessing we have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Roasting Raw Peanuts

Dry roasting peanuts is easy!. At our house, roasting is the first step to the chocolate covered peanuts I make for Christmas every year.

We roast the peanuts we grow. If interested, you can see how I harvested my peanut crop here. BTW, anyone can grow peanuts. If it is too cold for peanuts where you live, you can grow them in pots. You can also purchase raw peanuts at the grocery store and roast them. They are a great treat at Christmas parties! The scent of roasting peanuts will fill the house!

Here is how you do it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the peanuts out on a cookie sheet.  (A cookie sheet with a rim works best.)

Roast the peanuts for 20 - 30 minutes.  If you have smaller peanuts like Spanish, roast for 20 minutes. If you have larger peanuts like Virginia Jumbo, roast for 30 minutes. At about the halfway point, stir and turn the peanuts over to prevent burning. This is why you use a cookie shee with a rim. When stiring and turning the peanuts, they will fall off a flat cookie sheet. Ask me how I know this!  It is quite difficult to reach the peanuts that fall to the bottom of the oven without removing the oven racks! Here is a picture of my peanuts at the half way point.

When the peanuts are done, remove from the oven and turn them onto a plate or another cookie sheet. They will continue to cook while they are cooling so it is best to remove them from the hot cookie sheet so they don't overcook.

Once they are cooled, you can store them in the shell until you are ready to eat!


Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Christmas Time!

I love Christmas time! The music, the yummy treats, the scents of the season, the decorations, I love it all! One of the things I love most is making many of my Christmas decorations. My favorite is to make Christmas quilts. I though you might like to see some

Now, I know it is only Thanksgiving week here in the US, but my Christmas decorations start going up the week after Halloween.  Some stay up all year!

The first picture shows one of my favorite quilts. For the size of it, it really didn't take that long to make.  I took this quilt down after last Christmas but before that, it hung in this spot for over 3 years (all year long) because I love it so much.  The smaller one is a cloth with a print stamp on it.  All I did was quilt it.

The next quilt used metallic thread.  I found the thread difficult to work with and probably won't make another using it. The white square in the middle has a Star of Bethlehem quilted in it.  My apologies that you can't see the center block clearly.  I also embroidered the circular "Our Daily Bread" design over the walk way.  In addition, I made my kitchen table and bar chairs when we first moved into the house 12 years ago. 

Quilts going up the stairs.

I love this tree, but I only made a few decorations on it. (I did make the curtains behind it though.)  I am posting this picture because I think it is pretty and it really helps put me in the Christmas spirit. This tree is in my living room.

This tree is in the family room. I made some of the decorations on the tree. I also made the bookshelves and the curtains.  

My dining room.   I made the rug. It has seat cusions and placemats to match but I removed them for Christmas. I took this picture while standing on the stairs.
This quilt hangs in the dinning room on the other side of the china cabinet. It has been hanging here for two years. It is one of my year long decorations to remind me of Christmas throughout the year.  My father made the sculpture. 
Last picture! This is the tree in my office. It has a tropical theme. I made the quilt in the hallway. 

 I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a happy holiday season!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is It Possible To Have Homegrown Strawberries In The Fall? Yes!

My strawberry plants always reward me in the fall without any work. I planted Everbearing plants (as opposed to June bearing plants).  Everbearing plants fit our lifestyle better. They produce from spring until fall. While you never get an overabundance of strawberries at one time, you get quite a bit in spring and then again in fall. I also get some strawberries in the summer, but they tend to ripen quickly and are usually nibbled by something else before I get to pick them. 

In my role as a Master Gardener, people sometimes ask me what kind of strawberry plants to get. I usually tell them if you want to make jam, get June bearing. If you like to eat them all year long, but don't need a lot at any given time for jam, get Everbearing.

Here are pictures I took of some of my plants this morning. These strawberries are going into a batch of homemade yogurt I will make next week.

The last picture is of a wild strawberry plant that I grew from seed last year. Wild strawberries are quite small but super sweet and full of flavor.

Strawberries can grow almost anywhere. Commercially grown plants from the garden center are easy to establish in your yard. For maintenance, I really don't do anything except remove dead leaves during the summer. However, each spring I give them a high feeding of calcium. Bone meal is a good choice. One problem I do run into here in the South is ants. To keep them away, I feed the bed peppermint antacid tablets instead of bone meal. Crush them up and sprinkle between the plants. Honestly, that is all I do! There is very little work involved in maintaining a strawberry bed.

I hope you will consider growing strawberries in your yard. Strawberries even grow well in containers! You can get quite a few strawberries every year from just a few plants!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Happy Birthday to a Princess!

I recall, just about 7 years ago, we were to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Belize.  I had just received my new passport and we were looking at places to stay and package deals.  Well, one day we went to a strip shopping center to purchase some things and walked by a Petco.  Petco was having an adoption day with the Humane Society.  I said to my husband, "Let's go to look at the puppies!  We are just going to look - nothing more!!"

Molly's mother was abandoned (pregnant) and the Humane Society picked her up.  (Our county has a no kill shelter.)  She had the puppies and both she and the puppies were at the adoption day.  All I can say is puppy faces melt my heart!  At the moment I saw her, I knew that there wouldn't be a trip to Belize that year.

I can't believe that happened 7 years ago. Where does the time go?  Here is a picture of the Princess the day after we got her.  She was 8 weeks old. She had me up all night (like all puppies, she was very scared of her new house) and she finally fell asleep at 9:00 a.m. the next morning.  I remember I was exhausted!

She was a very cute puppy!

We learned at about 18 months that she was allergic to life! I honestly didn't know that dogs could be allergic to so much. Grass, trees, bugs, mold, dust, cats, dog dander, and processed dog food start the list.  She is even allergic to the fluid her yearly shots come in! 

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I cook for her - she can't eat any kind of dog food. Believe me, we have tried all the specialty stuff the vet(s) recommended!  At Christmas time, we usually stock up on 30 lb turkeys to cook for her.  The turkeys are cheaper at Christmas time and we have a large freezer to store them in. I cook them throughout the year. We have one left from last Christmas and I will be cooking it soon. Next month, the process starts all over again!

Her food is really quite expensive when you add in all the extra vitamins the nutritionist has me give her. (Yes, she goes to a doggie nutritionist!) But considering how happy and healthy she is, I really don't mind.

Happy Birthday Molly! 
Maybe someday I will get to go to Belize!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Managing Your Food Storage

I am sure some of you are hesitant to purchase large number 10 cans of food for your food storage program.  I know I was when I first started. My thoughts centered around the question "What am I supposed to do with the rest of the can now that I opened it?" If I lived in Arizona or some other 'dry' state, I am sure the plastic top on the can would suffice and it could stay on the shelf in the pantry.  That doesn't work here in the south.  Even in the winter months, the contents of the can will collect moisture and ruin the food in a matter of weeks. It usually takes me four to five months to finish a can. So, what do you do? Let me show you!

I just opened a new can of powdered eggs. To ensure I rotate my food storage, I label the can with the month/year I purchased it.   When I need something, I always take the oldest can. This can of egg powder was purchased in December 2010.

I got what I needed for the recipe I was making and put the plastic top back on the can to deal with later.  My procedure is to leave the can on the kitchen counter where I can see it so I know it needs to be stored correctly (otherwise I would forget about it).  It usually takes me a few days to get to it. This can sat for three days before I repackaged it.

To repackage it, I take some out and place it in a quart canning jar (I have lots of those at my house!) This will go into the refrigerator to use now.

The rest of the can will be repackaged with my Food Saver.  I love this appliance! (I know, it uses electricity!!) I usually reseal freeze-dried fruit in quart caning jars as well as package the onion and garlic powder that I make into pint and half-pint jars. For powdered products like milk, eggs, sour cream, or tomato powder, I like to use the food saver bags. I made four packets of eggs just like the one below.

As you can see, I have a paper towel in the bag with the powdered eggs. The paper towel helps to keep the egg powder out of the Food Saver machine while it is pulling the air out. There is less clean up when you use a paper towel. Each bag is labeled with the purchase date and the date the can was opened. I also use an extra large bag so I can reseal it a few times. That way I only need to take what I want, and then I can reseal the bag.

The packets are then put back in storage. This year I have been trying something new. I have been placing the resealed packages of powdered milk and eggs in the freezer. I thought I would try it as an experiment to see if the food would last longer/taste better by being stored in the freezer.  Normally, I would just place the packages under a bed. I think after my year long experiment, I can honestly say I don't see a difference between the frozen packages vs. non-frozen ones. But for now, I think I will keep the packages in the freezer. However, if it comes to not having any room for the turkeys I purchase to feed Molly, I will move the packages to under a bed.

Now that the packages are put back into food storage, it is time to update the supply list.

And the last thing I do is add the item to my food storage purchase list so I can replace it! 

Oh, on a side note, I thought I would share a picture of the can openers we have at our house.


While we have purchased many swing away can openers over the years, they always end up breaking. We find ourselves coming back to these openers over and over again.  Now, they are the only ones we use. The P-38 on the left side of the picture has been on my key chain for over 30 years and still works great! It only takes a few seconds to open a number 10 can with one of these.

So, with very little effort, you can successfully add number 10 cans to your food storage program! The best part about purchasing number 10 cans is the money you save!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cooking with Food Storage: Potato Soup

This recipe is another favorite of mine. It is soooo easy to make! This soup lends itself to cooking when the power is out because all you have to do is heat water! 

Here is the list of ingredients:
  • 8 cups of water
  • 3 TBS minced onion or powdered onion (I grow my own onion and dry it for powder.)
  • 2 TBS garlic powder (I grow my own garlic and dry it for powder.)
  • 4 to 5 TBS chicken bullion or 4 to 5 chicken bullion cubes
  • 1/2 cup butter (you can use powdered butter here but it will need about 1/8 cup oil and 1/8 cup shelf stable cream as well.  I sometimes use butter that I make.  You can see how to make your own butter here.)
  • 2 1/2 cups instant potato flakes
Heat the water to boil and add the bullion cubes.  While the water was heating, I gathered all the ingredients except the potato flakes and added them as well. If you are using powdered butter, this recipe will also need both 1/8 cup oil (I use olive oil) and 1/8 cup shelf stable cream.  You can make it without the oil and cream, but it tastes different - not bad, just different. My husband prefers it with the oil and cream.  When the water is boiling, stir everything a few times and turn the heat off.

Slowly add the instant potato flakes to the pan and stir.  You may find that you need a little  less than 2 1/2 cups.  If you add them slowly, you can stop when the taste and texture is to your liking. We like it a little on the thick side so I add the entire amount.

There are many ways to combine all of these ingredients. If you are ever in a power outage, all you really need to do is heat the water and then combine all the ingredients together and stir until smooth. If you use chicken bullion cubes, you may need to get the water to boiling so the cubes will dissolve. I used bullion cubes this time, but lately I have been thinking I need to purchase some powdered bullion. If you are a fan of canning your own chicken stock, this is a perfect use for it!

Garnish with the toppings of your choice. For this meal, I used a package of combo cheeses from the store and parsley I grew myself.

There you have it, easy potato soup! Serve with some garlic toast on a cold evening. Yum!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Let Me Introduce You to Elizabeth

It occurred to me this weekend that I have been writing this blog for six months now and I have not introduced you to my inspiration - Elizabeth. If you read my profile, you will see that I have two great- great-grandmother's named Elizabeth. They both are on my father's side of the family.  Let me introduce them to you today.

Elizabetta De Paolo

Elizabetta is the grandmother of my father's mother. She was born in Italy and lived there her entire life.  I can not find any record of her coming to America.  My grandmother never spoke about her being here in America either. I also know my grandmother never got to travel to meet any of her relatives in Italy because of WWI and WWII.  However, I admire Elizabetta very much because she let her daughter Rose travel to America at age 13 to start a better life here.  Can you image the courage it must have taken to let her daughter go to a strange country without any family at 13, knowing she would never see her again? Now I didn't say Rose came to America all alone, she didn't. From the records I have found, it appears (I have not yet confirmed this - I am looking for the ship's passenger list) that she traveled to America with her future mother-in-law. My great-grandfather was in New York City waiting for both Rose and his mother to arrive here. My great-grandmother Rose carried this picture of her mother, Elizabetta, with her to America. The best I can tell is this picture was taken about 1870, around the time Elizabetta got married. I am sure it was the only time she ever had her picture taken.

Elizabeth Schuls

Elizabeth is the grandmother of my father's father. She was born in Ireland and came to America as a young woman, probably during the Irish potato famine. She lived in New York City. She met and married my great-great-grandfather, Michael Smith, sometime before the American Civil War. I do not know (yet) when they were married because I haven't been able to find their marriage certificate. (I am still looking!) However, I do know they were married before 1861 because my great-grandmother, Mary, was born in 1861. Like most Irish in NYC at that time, they were quite poor.  Unfortunately, that means I do not have any pictures of Elizabeth. I only have pictures of her daughter, Mary, later in life after Mary had grandchildren. 

I think of these two women often throughout my day. How did they manage to keep their house clean, cook meals and wash clothes without all the luxury appliances we have today? How did they manage to do it with very little money?  I know it took a lot of creativity to run a household back then.  It also took a set of skills that not many people have today.  Since I was in my 20's, I have been trying to learn these skills to keep them alive and pass them onto others. 

That is the reason I started this blog!

Do you know your ancestors? I bet you too have someone like Elizabeth in your family.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a FREE web site that you can use to help you locate your ancestors: This web site has all sorts of tutorials and on-line help if you don't know where to start. It has records from all over the world! Anyone, from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, can access this site to search for their family records. You should check it out!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cooking with Food Storage: Gingerbread Pancakes with Caramel Sauce

This is one of my most favorite food storage breakfast (or dinner!) recipes.  We eat it often at my house. It is super simple to make and uses all shelf stable ingredients! I first read about this recipe on the blog, I Dare You To Eat It  a few years ago. This post is my interpretation of the recipe posted on that blog.

Here is the list of ingredients for the pancakes:

  • 4 TBS powdered eggs (You could also use two large fresh eggs.)
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour (I used Whole Wheat All Purpose Flour I made myself. You can see how to make Whole Wheat All Purpose Flour here.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves (I use 1/8 tsp of ground cloves.)
  • 2 to 3 cups apple juice (I can my own apple juice.)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
 Start by mixing all the dry ingredients together. Mix well. Take extra care to eliminate the lumps from the powdered eggs. (You can sift the powder eggs to eliminate the lumps, but I didn't do that. I usually just break up any lumps I find with a spoon.)

 Then, in a separate bowl, mix the liquid ingredients. If using fresh eggs, add them to the liquid ingredients. Since I used powdered eggs, the only liquid ingredients I had were the oil and apple juice.  If you like thicker batter, use 2 cups of apple juice. If you like thinner batter, use 3 cups apple juice.  I used 3 cups apple juice. Whisk them together to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine until well blended.

Pour onto a hot griddle. Cook on one side until the bubbles on the surface begin to pop and the batter turns from shiny to dull. (The shiny to dull part is important when using whole wheat flour.)

Turn over and cook until golden brown.


Here are the ingredients for the Caramel sauce:
  • 1/2 cup butter powder (Use 1/2 cup if using real butter as well.)
  • 3 to 4 TBS buttermilk powder (You can also use real buttermilk. Use 3/4 cup.)
  • Water to reconstitute the butter and/or buttermilk powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 TBS corn syrup
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla (I make my own vanilla. You can see how to make your own vanilla here.)
Place the first 5 ingredients in a very large sauce pan. Since I used both powdered butter and powdered buttermilk, this is best accomplished in two steps.  First, add all the dry ingredients to the sauce pan and mix.  If the butter powder is a bit lumpy, don't worry.  The lumps will come out as you cook it.

Then add the water for both the butter and buttermilk.  You could also reconstitute them before combining, but I don't bother. I add one cup of water. Then I add the corn syrup. Stir a bit and turn on the heat.  

Bring to a boil and cook for 6 to 7 minutes. The mixture will bubble up a lot. This is why it is important to use a very large saucepan   Here you can see a picture of mine coming right up to the top of the pan.

Stir continuously so it doesn't burn. As you stir and cook it, it will 'caramelize'.  (It really isn't a Caramel sauce - a better description would be 'Caramel like'.) When finished cooking, remove from heat and add the vanilla.

To make both the pancakes and sauce at the same time, I usually start with the sauce and when the sauce is done (and cooling), I make the pancakes. My experience is the sauce burns if you stop stirring for even a few seconds to flip the pancakes.  Here is the final product together.

These pancakes are so good you don't need to save them for breakfast in the wintertime.  We eat these throughout the year. My husband skips the Caramel sauce and adds butter and maple syrup to his.  They are really good that way too!

If I ever find myself without power because of a hurricane or bad storm, these pancakes are on the menu!