Garlic Growing and Garden Plans for 2014!

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Our Fall shipment of garlic and some garlic from Europe!

This year my garden was a total flop- between having Nat in the spring and some other craziness of life it just completely fell off the list-so this was a step towards a better planned garden next season. We picked some tomatoes here and there, and a meal or two’s worth of green beans and swiss chard. I’m so disappointed I didn’t can up loads of tomatoes and I didnt grow a single potato, the shame!! I have decided a better garden is on my priority list. Next year it will be so different and I am excited to have taken steps this fall to make sure we have a great start next spring!

We finally did our last planting of the season,  right down to the wire for New England weather- complete with tiny snowflakes blowing around in the air! Yikes! Thanks to help from Chef and my mom to get the garden tilled in with new compost and to dig the rows- I threw my back out and there’s no way my back could have handled that and we couldn’t wait any longer to get the garlic planted!!

Here are my little helpers, dont you just love those outfits? They had instructions to find good ‘work’ clothes and wouldn’t let me help. (; They’re standing in the freshly tilled garden,  next year we’ll hopefully have fall crops to harvest still!

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"Thanks, Mom, but we will dress ourselves!"

Three rows of garlic, including Elephant Garlic, a Hardy German Hard Neck Variety,  and the few bulbs my mom snuck back home from her recent trip to Europe (giggle!)…we’re set! After many jokes about making sure the cloves were pointing the right way (gotta make sure they won’t “grow towards China!”), they are tucked in for winter nap and we’ll be buried in garlic next season! I loved the bit of info the fabulous Mavis of One Hundred Dollars a Month shared here about planting garlic- I really enjoy her spunky attitude and she’s really cool! I also enjoyed this article about a man who grows his garlic as a perennial.  For decades he has simply left the smaller stalks in the ground to let them grow next season and has had an enormously productive garlic patch because of it!

We also moved the cold frames to a better location for easy Spring access for an early start, and I took advantage of the 50% off sale at Seed Savers Exchange and ordered several varieties of Heirloom tomatoes, squash and pumpkins, beets, and zinnias. Can’t beat packets of heirloom seeds for $1.38 a piece!! I am aiming to have as many of our seeds as possible be heirloom and organic, and am so excited to have a large variety of heirloom tomatoes next season! We hope to grow a fair amount of our produce in an effort to get away from all those GMO’s and to make sure our family is eating as healthy as possible.

To help me along with the plans for a much larger garden next year, including changes in our usual methods and layouts, more variety,  and extending our growing season,  as well as preserving what we grow, I’ve been spending all sorts of time perusing ahem, researching garden ideas on Pinterest! I just love the creativity and skills people share on Pinterest, so be sure to stop on over and follow my Garden and Backyard board to get in on the fun! What steps do you take in the fall for next year’s garden?

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins

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Yum!

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins.

Yup. I did that. My Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are also Chocolate Chip Cookies. We put it to a family vote and the decision was, they wanted both. And what those short little humans wanted, by golly, they were getting it today. With a Secret Ingredient added in!

We had a true treat this afternoon to have Chef home for dinner! Its rare to have nights off in the restaurant business so we treasure any opportunity we get for a nice family evening, even though the poor guy is usually exhausted!

After lots of playing and yard work today, we all sat down together for a dinner of herb roasted chicken (I got a great deal the other day!), mashed Yukon Gold potatoes,  and vegetables.  While I was making dinner, I took some time to throw together some cookie dough, loosely interpreting Sally’s Baking Addiction’s Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies, allowing them to chill while dinner cooked. Just before we cleared up from our nice family dinner,  I popped some cookies into the oven for a warm,  gooey treat for dessert!

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Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins

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My boys, coloring and waiting for their cookies!

Now for the secret…

I have always loved my mom’s cookies and she let me in on her ‘secret’ ingredient years ago- add a few tablespoons of cooled coffee to the cookie dough for just the right flavor. Trust me, its my favorite “secret ingredient” and I just can’t make cookies without it! It also helps balance the moisture with the oats added to this recipe.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Oatmeal and Raisins

2 and 1/4 c Flour
1 and 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1 and 1/2 tsp Cornstarch
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 c Light Brown Sugar
1/2 c Sugar
1 and 1/2 sticks Butter, melted
1 Egg
1 Egg yolk
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 c Rolled Oats
1/2 c Chocolate Chips
1/2 c Raisins
3 to 4 T Brewed Coffee, cool

Combine flour, baking soda, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon in a bowl, set aside.

In a separate bowl,  stir together the sugar, brown sugar, and melted butter, making sure there are no lumps. Add in the egg, then the yolk and vanilla extract.

Combine the egg mixture with the flour mixture, stirring.  It will be fairly thick. Fold in the chocolate chips, oats, and raisins. Add the coffee, a tablespoon at a time, stirring to combine to acheive a well mixed, slightly sofetened cookie dough.

Cover and chill the dough, a minimum of 2 hours, up to 3 days.

To bake, spoon the chilled dough evenly onto baking sheets, bake in a preheated oven approximately 10 -11 minutes. Cool slightly then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  Yields 18 2″ cookies.

Recipe adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Sally took a great amount of time testing her recipes on her blog, and I have to say, she’s never let me down! She has very specific techniques involved in achieving the perfectly chewy, soft baked cookie, so be sure to pop on over to her page to understand why her recipes call for certain steps, like chilling the cookie dough before baking, and using cornstarch to help keep them soft. Sally recommends hand mixing with this recipe. 

I linked up! The ladies that put together Showstopper Saturday are amazing and readers could spend all week exploring the amazing blog posts linked up to share. Be sure to stop on over to check out the other super blogs that link up each week- I just love the wonderfully creative projects to see!

for some reason I cant get the cute button to show up- in the meantime, be sure to visit Simply Gloria!

How I Keep Our Small Pantry Stocked on a Tiny Budget…

Recently I wrote about the importance of keeping a fully stocked pantry. I am the type of person who likes to stay stocked up all the time so that we’re ready for whatever life sends our way. Unexpected guests for dinner, emergencies like a loss in pay or job loss, injury or illness,  storms or natural disasters- things come up without warning and I sleep better knowing we’re ready! I like to think of it as an edible ‘savings’.

What if I want to keep a stocked-up pantry but have limited space? And what if I just can’t afford to buy a lot of extra food?

Its okay! We dont have a lot of room at all! And, we are on a serious budget.

Today I am sharing photos of our little pantry. Even though we have limited space,  its easy to see we are fairly stocked up, and between the nonperishable items in our pantry and the can’t-fit-anything-else-in-it deep freezer, we could go a fair amount of time without having to buy food, if it were ever necessary!

How do I do it, though, with a limited budget? I buy ahead on sale, in season, and I hit the clearance racks with a vengeance. I do use coupons, but not consistently. My brain is too scrambled to always be chasing coupon deals all over town, and I got burnt out quickly trying to rely on coupons. Can you relate to that? It means sometimes missing out on the “best” deals, but it helps simplify the task when I’m squeezing in a stock-up trip with three kids in tow!

I also keep a basic meal plan rolling all the time, always using leftovers,  and I try to make the majority of our treats from scratch. Keep in mind that I generally would prefer to always make my family dinner from scratch, but it can be really nice in a winter power outtage to be able to pop open a can of soup for a warm dinner by candlelight or camp lantern.

Just make sure you are stocking up on things your family will eat! Sardines are shelf stable,  but you aren’t going to ever catch me taking advantage of them being on sale, yeah?

To stock up, I choose one or two things to focus on, each week. Today for example, I knew I wanted to add some veggies,  a bit of fruit, and soup that was on Buy 2 Get 2 Free Special (making them about $1 each. Coupons would have made this even cheaper). I also knew I wanted to check for any meats that had been marked down, and boy, I hit the jackpot!

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Markdown meats- $0.63 lb Purdue Roasting Chicken, and Pork Roast for $1.97 lb!

There are plenty of couponers out there who wouldn’t have called these prices great deals, but for my area stores, I was pleased! After the markdown coupons, the chickens were an average of $0.65 a lb! I get so giddy over having a freezer thats chock-full of deals, like the eight loaves of bread I brought home last week for $0.59 each! Woo!

Next week I know we are in need of restocking our pastas, pasta sauce, and all canned tomato products. Somehow I managed to pretty much run through all of those and we use enough of those items for me to want to restock asap!  I also want to make sure I pick up some hardy squash each time I shop to get some frozen.

This cupboard was built by my dad, and I am honestly not sure of the dimensions. It is a two-tier, large lazy susan. Lazy Susans are a great way to organize your pantry items in a small space and to keep them accessible!

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Back up Baking Items, Peanut Butter, and Soups

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Canned Beans and Tuna, Canned Veggies and Fruits

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A few treats, and Shelf Stable rice milk, Evaporated Milk, and other beverages

Rices, pastas, cereals, juices, not pictured, are along the left side wall of the cupboard. We also keep baby cereal,  formula, and some jarred baby foods in the opposite side.  Even though I am a staunch breastfeeding mommy, who’s a bit of a stickler for the healthiest (um, and cheapest!) ways to feed our babies, I am realistic and realize there is always a chance of an emergency where Nat could possibly need to be fed formula.  Remember,  much of the purpose of a stocked pantry is to be prepared *just in case*!

In addition to this cupboard,  we have a cabinet with spices, open baking items, and large glass jars with various lentils and dried beans.  Its not very pretty but it works! Underneath that is more flour, a huge amount of olive oil (a perk of a husband being a chef is being able to order items in bulk!) and oatmeal canisters. We also have a small cabinet in the basement with all sorts of jams, jellies, and sauces, next to the deep freezer.  Both my mom and grandmother are wonderfully ‘gifted’ canners and one of my goals next year is to get serious about building my canning skills! We are planning a large garden next spring and I cant wait to get creative with sauces, jellies and salsas from our garden!

Some people are able to devote entire rooms and basement areas to their food storage and aim for 6 months, a year, or even more of food. We are not seeking to store that much food long term (right now I would like to work on a solid 3 months, then 6), but its great to see how some people go about organizing their pantries,  large or small! Be sure to check out my Pinterest board, Home Organization, to take a peek at all sorts of ways to keep your pantry, kitchen, and home organized!

The Importance of a Stocked Pantry: Getting through Lean Times and More

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A devastating ice storm, Massachusetts 2008

If you’ve ever seen the empty shelves after a major storm, or you’ve experienced the devastation of natural disaster,  you probably know first hand what its like to not be able to depend on a quick run to the store for dinner. Maybe you live in New England like me, and watch silly people panicking, shopping like the 2″ snow forecast is the end of the world.

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A grocery store after looting

Or, perhaps you’ve experienced other types of ‘emergencies’, like the time my husband’s payroll check BOUNCED and our bank accounts were frozen for **days** straightening out the issue. Let me tell you, that was a good feeling to know I didn’t have to borrow money to be able to feed our family. And it was all because I stock food in our freezer, pantry, and fridge like a crazy person. in order to be prepared for the surprises life hands to us.

Of course,  there’s always the emergency many of us face fairly often- what on earth am I going to feed these tiny people tonight!?

Look. Maybe its the New England in me, or my family roots of Scottish, German, and Polish (Chef’s side of the family), but I get REALLY uneasy if the cupboards are bare. Like, I feel kinda crazy and anxious, I stay up figuring out exactly what we need to restock as soon as possible.  I’ve been known to tell people I have “full fridge syndrome”. With winter drawing near, I’m like a squirrel,  jamming as many things into the pantry as possible.

A couple months ago my family got together and my aunt put an ice cream cake in the deep freezer in the basement and she quipped, “well now I know where to go when the world ends!”. She has no idea. It was FULL, hahaha. 

Groceries are one of the biggest expenses an average family has after housing and transportation (um, along with health insurance and tuition for many). When the subject of family budgets comes up, I know there are some people who let out a groan- “do we really need to write down our spending? “- there are some who feel they can spend freely (great for them!), and there are those who groan for a different reason. They dread doing the budget simply because there’s nothing left to cut, nothing else they could do to try to make their dollars and cents last to next pay period. With the last few weeks of Government Shutdown,  thousands of families wondering when and if they would be payed again while on furlough, and even more people counting on the help of WIC and SNAP to supplement their food budgets to ensure their families are fed, its easy to feel, well, uneasy about the possibilities of facing lean times in the future.

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Crowds of people clamoring to take advantage of a limit- free EBT glitch in Louisiana

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Overflowing carts abandoned once the glitch was corrected.

The chaos that ensued when a Walmart in Louisiana honored SNAP purchases during a computer glitch last week, removing the limit on their cards, proved there are indeed some people are willing to take advantage of a system there to help. However, the frightening part wasnt so much the carts and carts overflowing with food and Police being called to the stores to keep things under control. The system was shut down to correct the problem, and thats when droves of people were unable to purchase food, albeit for a short time. Stores shut down because their percentage of SNAP purchases is so high they couldn’t afford to stay open.

Across the country, families wondered if their WIC benefits would be valid as the program’s Federal funding had been stopped. A letter seen HERE (and many other places) was reportedly sent to stop the funding of all November EBT benefits if a deal had not been reached by Congress.  Not to sound like a kook with a tin foil hat, but, imagine what would happen to our country if all of a sudden,  people who were truly dependant upon food stamps couldn’t pay for food. You just saw the madness that happened to just two Walmart locations during a simple glitch in the system. Granted, there is a part of me who says, no way, that would NEVER happen.  But…the ‘what if’ side of me says…it could get scary, really quick. Desperate people do desperate things.

This is not a post to criticize those who receive benefits,  nor is it a place to criticize the programs in place. If a political debate is what you’re seeking, go someplace other than here. My family has gratefully accepted help in the past. It was there when we needed it. End of story.

This is a post to make one point only: there are people out there who dont care what they spend,  including their groceries. There are people who buy ready to eat foods, convenient and fast without much planning required. They go to the store and buy whatever their hearts desire, they go to the drive through a couple times a day for their caffeine infusions. They dont think anything could happen to them. I’m sure plenty of people have said that who thought better of it after they experienced a disaster, whether big or small. Maybe thats you! Its all fine, but what would you do if you lost your job? Or you or a family member faced a major illness or injury and the simple tasks like a grocery store trip suddenly seemed impossible?  How would you provide for your family if the hurricane forecast is predicted to be worse than Hurricane Sandy? If you have children, how would you answer them when they ask why you said “it won’t ever happen to us”, and you all are wondering what to eat?

Here is a perfect example of a dad who made it through Sandy relatively unscathed, although weeks of no power sure taught him a few lessons. Something that sticks out on his list of things Sandy taught him? It can happen to you. No matter how much you think it won’t, it can. Hindsight can be a powerful tool for future planning!

Now, if you’re like me, you may want to have a well-stocked pantry and food supply without totally killing your budget. I’ll discuss several ways to keep your stockpile built up (without tin foil hat paranoia and Armegeddon bunkers- thats not what’s going on here, *smiles*), and I’ll share some of my favorite ideas on Pinterest of how to work your food storage into a regular meal plan, right here, next week!

I linked up!

Will Cook For Smiles

Image credits,  Google images, and cbsnews.com

White Cheddar and Chive Biscuits

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White Cheddar and Chive Biscuits

Once a month,  my family gets together for ‘Third Sunday’, an easy meal for us all to share and catch up with each other. Its a great chance for us all to get together and put my parenting skills on display,  while my children create havoc with their cousins!

I gotta tell you.
They all took crazy to a whole new level today. Whew.

But seriously,  its nice to get us all together and to have a set plan each month makes it easy for us to brace ourselves plan for the upcoming event!

Traditionally,  we serve soups and hearty, crusty breads. Salads, sides, munchies, and dessert make their way onto the table, too! Usually we’ll open up a bunch of wine and have a grand ol time, but today we got together earlier in the day. This Sunday, everyone made beef stew. Really. We accidentally all made beef stew, three crockpots full…ha!

My contribution this time were some biscuits. Lucky for me, the kiddos decided to wake me up ultra early so I had plenty of time to throw together a batch of White Cheddar and Chive Biscuits. These go together easily and are perfect to dip in a giant bowl of stew for fall!

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Dry Ingredients and Fresh Chives

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Shredded White Cheddar

White Cheddar and Chive Biscuits

3 c. All Purpose Flour
Healthy pinch Salt
Pinch Dried Oregano
1 and a 1/2 T Baking Powder
1 Bunch Chives, minced fine
1/3 lb White Cheddar, grated

9 T Butter (1 stick plus 1 T),  Cold, diced

1 and a 1/2 cups Cold Whole Milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Combine dry ingredients and chives. Add butter and work in by crumbling it with your fingers or use a pastry cutter.   I prefer using my hands! Work butter in until there are mostly pea sized pieces, add cheese and combine gently. Add the milk, a bit at a time, and barely mix together to combine. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Dont over mix! It’s okay to have a messy pile of dough.

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Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.

Knead together gently and shape into a uniform rectangle or circle.  Be sure to avoid making your dough too thin or your biscuits will be fairly thin as well! I made mine fairly small to feed the crowd.

Dip a biscuit cutter or glass in flour and cut your biscuits out, and place on a cookie sheet.

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Bake about 10 minutes, until golden. Brush tops with melted butter and serve!

I’m linking my NEW BLOG up at the amazingly awesome Showstopper Saturday Link Party!

Will Cook For Smiles

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Introduction to the World! Parenting on the Cheap With My Three Little Birds, and Brown Butter Blondies!

Well, Hello There!

I am excited to be here, and cant wait to document my journey as a mom to three (My three “little birds”, Jax, Bella, and Nat), and wife to my amazing Chef Husband. We are, like just about everyone else I know,  on a budget and trying to make it all work. I could pretend our children are perfect snowflakes who always behave nicely and pick up after themselves……but, they’re NOT. They are chaotic and wild and sweet and loving and they drive me totally nuts every day. Thats the beauty of parenting and family: you love them no matter how crazy they make you!

Part of why I have started this blog is to find some accountability in my life and as a parent. I run around with scrambled eggs for brains and cant seem to reach my goals no matter how good my intentions may be! A few of my goals I will be working on here are some mothering goals like more consistent bedtimes and chore lists for the kiddos,  goals for me like not being so fat losing the baby weight and getting a freakin’ hold on the organization that is lacking around here, sheesh! I’ll also be working on our budget and hopefully getting myself  directed towards parenting on the cheap and becoming debt free- something I have been working on forever but haven’t made much progress on!

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In the spirit of Full Disclosure,
I have a few confessions today. These are reasons why I am not reaching my goals.

~ I baked a treat for the kids today. Then I sent Jax to quiet time and put the little birds to bed for their nap. The treat was set to cool on the counter,  piping hot out of the oven.  I grabbed a spoon and proceeded to devour the Brown Butter Blondies with A SPOON. A spoon. The shame. No wonder I dont like how my clothes fit. Ugh.

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The Evidence.

They say the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one…

~ I listen to Dave Ramsey Radio almost daily.  He’s the debt free dude. I am kinda feeling like I am not doing the steps, even though deep down, I really really want to. But our budget is SO tight right now its almost impossible. But changes they are a comin’!

~ I am convinced I am totally disorganized.  I clean the house all day and there’s a big mess to clean up all over again the next day. But I think its my family, husband included, going around undoing all my work when I’m not looking!

~ I pissed and moaned about buying a good heavy duty case for the Husband’s newly upgraded cell phone. He uses it at work *in professional kitchens* and I didnt want to shell out the 30-something bucks it was going to cost to protect it. I said “let me look for a better deal”. Hahaha.  Not two days later, guess what wifey was filing an insurance claim to replace the now unusable shattered to smithereens cell phone? Yes. This girl. Sometimes I’m just too miserly cheap thrifty for my own good.

~ Yes I know I mentioned being debt free and being thrifty in the same post as mentioning my hubby’s new cell phone. We dont have land lines, it is internet access and we both need them for work. So we’re stickin’ with them.

~ I used to work out and be thin.  I was strong. I felt awesome and fit and tiny. I’m not talking about the thinnest I’ve been, but I feel like I am so far away from that now after three kids that I might not ever get there again.  My body hurts.  It aches and creaks and screams ow ow ouch a lot more than I ever imagined it could.  I am embarrassed by my body and how much of the baby weight still lingers. Needless to say, I am decidedly NOT one of those ladies who loses all sorts of weight by breastfeeding.  Nope.

So now you have it, real reasons (excuses?) for why I haven’t been reaching my goals. So stick around, check in on me, see how I’ve been doing setting my goals and reaching them while I parent on the cheap.

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Today is a new day...

Oh, and I’ll leave you with the link to the ultra chewy Brown Butter Blondies I devoured earlier today.  I modified this fabulous lady’s chewy blondie recipe by doubling it and browning the butter. That’s it! Divine. Friends dont let friends get fat alone. So bake em, eat em, and I’ll see you back here in a couple days for some walking programs to think about following with me!

Brown Butter Blondies

2 c Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 rsp Baking Soda

2/3 c Butter, melted and cooked a bit till lightly browned
2 c Brown Sugar

1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Eggs

Chocolate Chips,  M & Ms, etc

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift Together flour, baking powder and baking soda, set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan and cook till slightly browned, remove from heat. Dont  over brown the butter, it will continue cooking after removed from heat!

Stir butter into brown sugar to combine. Add vanilla and eggs and combine.

Gradually combine brown sugar mixture with flour mixture. Add chocolate chips, etc, and pour into a greased 9 x 13″ pan.

Bake approx 20 -30 minutes or until cooked through (will vary depending on thickness of mixture and pan size). Cool, cut, and serve!

goal quote images, Pinterest.