Thursday, January 27, 2011

One more thing!

Well, two, really --

dear little Brick is designing a new video game -- Gnomes vs. Zombies.

We've received a new gnome to add to our collection. Well, he looks more like a gnome/troll hybrid. His name is Hokus and you'll have to wait for spring for pictures.

Coincidence? I think not.

Hot Cocoa mix a la Yooper

As we travel into high winter, bringing with it sledding, ice fishing, and the like, I share with you a recipe for hot chocolate mix. I know, I know. But it is soooooooo yummy and easy to do. You can buy all the ingredients at Aldi, I promise. If you, like me, have experimented with recipes like this in the past that called for powdered sugar and/or creamer, trust me -- this recipe is far superior in taste and texture.


2 c. powdered milk
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa powder

That's it! I put mine in the blender to combine, but I'm pretty sure you could also put it in a glass jar and shake the dickens out of it if you like. I usually end up making a triple batch which fills a 1/2 gallon jar about 2/3 full. Start by mixing ~ 2 Tbsp with hot water. Add more (or take away some) to taste. We find in our house that it's even better with some yummy chocolate shavings added before the hot water. Would also love to try mixing this with dark chocolate cocoa powder, but haven't seen any lately.

Enough about recipes? Okay, I hear you. The job hunt is going horribly, thanks for asking. This is happy news for our co-dependent dog who will probably need therapy if I ever do start working again. The boys are all hale and hardy at the moment. Pa is looking forward to ice fishing contests as finances allow. See, it's so much easier to talk about food!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fishy Doings

So the house is reeking of vinegar just now. Remember that cookbook I mentioned previously? Yeah, the one with the garam masala recipe in it. Well, turns out it also has a recipe for pickled fish. There is only one person in this house who eats pickled fish, and wouldn't you know it -- he decided that he just had to have some.

We had a bag of pan fish in the freezer that I've been meaning to fry up for some time. Lucky little fishies -- they got picked for the experiment. The old man has Mondays off, so he got it started with the thawing and the brining.

And then I took over. As a result, the house smells like vinegar, and I've got a plastic pail full of fish, lemons, and onions waiting for their new bath. They still have their tails and fins on. Yuck!

If this isn't love, I ask you: what is?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Word (or more) On the Middle Child . . .

We all know middle children -- they're the glue that you don't always notice but still hold the world together. My middle child is particularly adept at flying under the radar. We're pretty sure he was recruited by some government acronym around age 3, but that's a story for another day.

All my kids have struggles with school. None of them appear to be motivated solely by grades. It's logic that I find hard to counter -- after all, at age 38, who cares that I got straight As in grade school? My contribution to the world, should I be so blessed as to make one, is far more important. In any case, Jake, our middle child, reallllllly struggles with multi-part projects. He slaved over his science project recently. It involved making a musical instrument. He worked all weekend on it and the results, while not quite catastrophic, were not as he would have liked. At the last minute, I was able to persuade him to do a much simpler approach.

The other component of this project was to write a report about your experiences. I was able to convince the boy to write a lot about his failed instrument as that is how we learn things in science -- as much from our failures as our successes. This a.m., I was able to get a gander at his report. Be still my heart! As only Jake could do, he not only covered all his bases, but he was very careful to credit his brother for the initial idea and his mom for the final idea. How kind is that? To give credit to someone who helped you - even to acknowledge that you had help, well, to me that is an A+ project, regardless of what the teacher gives him.

My kids have the right of it. Grades don't matter so much. Who you are as a person is much more important.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This and That

Time to catch up on various and sundry! Our second fruity Friday was well received, but we cheated a little. We had Lychees, an Asian delicacy that has been enjoyed by some family members for more than 20 years. Oddly, they are difficult to find in this area, but I was able to locate them at Mega, of all places. Mega West to be exact. They come in a can and taste a little bit like Mandarin oranges. All you need to do to serve them is open the can, dump in a bowl, and add a handful of ice cubes to get them nice and cold. BW was picking them right out of the serving bowl. Probably should work on that.

Meatless Mondays might be a little tricky. The Indian refried beans were fantastic! A better side dish, perhaps, but quite tasty. The Garam Masala was a breeze to mix up. This is a blend of spices that adds a savory zip to lots of things, including, I'm told, sweet potatoes. Yesterday was lazy day so we had our noodles, tuna, and super-discounted Aldi lemon caper sauce dish. Man, I wish I could think of a cheap alternative to noodles!

The kids continue to muddle along and we are all beginning to feel a bit cabin feverish. However, ice fishing contests are coming up quickly and so is a trip to the northwoods for a certain someone's 30th birthday.

No job here yet, but I am thankful for the many thoughts, prayers, and job referrals that I have been blessed with. My mom won the beer pool though -- after three years, she has finally been hired on as a regular employee at the school. Yay! So let's just put it this way: if you have a job, or you don't have a job, but you have enough money to make ends meet, be very, VERY grateful. It could be soooo much worse!

Monday, January 10, 2011


So Friday was "fruity Friday" at our house. I like the idea of trying a new fruit (or vegetable) every week. This week was mango week. Yeah, get the Chris Kattan images out yer head. (as if you could!) It was a close battle between mango and papaya, but I couldn't distinguish which of the three unlabelled papaya varieties was the cheap one, so mango won.

It's kinda no fair, since I once made a mango salsa that only the old man and I ate. We knew what it tasted like. For this episode, we served it up plain. Every boy dutifully ate of the fruit in the bowl. It was a lukewarm reception at best. Then the old man informed the youngest child that it wasn't quite ripe yet. Oops.

Onward and upward -- today is meatless Monday. Shhh! Don't tell the kids! Thing One goes ape when he learns that entree of the day has no meat in it. But I found this recipe in this awesome cookbook that my dear mother in law gave me just yesterday . . . so I'm off to mix up some garam masala to use in the recipe featuring red lentils. Stay toasty, everyone!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

More on Resolutions

So, I'm looking at The Daily Green the other day, and they have this list of 15 New Year's Resolutions. Let's see how our house stacks up:

1. Give up plastic (and paper) bags
Eh, we do alright with this one. Usually shop at the Aldi, so have to bring my own bags. Really gotta work on that one with Wally-World though. The checkers there get kinda uptight when I bring in my homemade grocery bag because it doesn't have a little loop for them to secure to their bag-o-matic. Wah. It's washable -- it's durable -- it's not made of plastic -- I like it. However, we do reuse all the bags we get. Paper bags hold our weekly paper recyclables as mandated by the garbage hauler. Plastic bags -- garbage can liners and cat-box cleaning devices they are.

2. Stop buying bottled water
Duh! We have nice metal water bottles for toting along with us. If we happen to forget, we either drink all the water in the plastic bottle or we dump it on the flowers if there's any left. And then we recycle the plastic bottle. Can you imagine only drinking bottled water, though?

3. Stop receiving unwanted catalogues
Lands End and my garden catalogues -- that's it. Woot!

4. Give up Conventional Detergents
See the previous post for the recipe we use to make our own

5. Give up Hot Water (at least in the clothes washer)
Been doing this for years! The only exception is towels, which really, I think, need to be washed in hot water.

6. Give up the Clothes Dryer
Another Duh! moment. That's why I made the old man build me a clothesline first year here. Winter has always been a different story, but since we got the pellet stove, I can hang up jeans, sweaters, "delicates" and other stuff on our nifty Ikea drying rack. Love it!

7. Check for leaks in your toilet
FAIL!! How can you tell the difference between water leaking and man whiz?

8. Give up toilet paper (OK at least conventional toilet paper)
They mean use recycled swipe. Sorry -- another fail. They don't have it at Aldi. But I do use the super cheap Scott-like brand. Lasts a good long time and it's cheap.

9. Give up Paper Towels
Ok! Got ya there! Been doing that for a year or so now. Tired out washcloths, sleeves from t-shirts, t-shirts not appropriate for project sno-trag -- these are our new paper towels. Washed in hot water with the bleach -- they rock! And we one-upped you there, Daily Green -- we have project sno-trag. Ratty t-shirts are cut into squarish-rectangley pieces and used for blowing noses. The four older members of the family also have nicer hankies for daily use.

10. Run a fully loaded dishwasher
You mean there are people that don't have enough dirty dishes piled up to make a load? Can I meet them? (and yes, we air dry 99% of the time. unless we are in a GI bug or flu status at home)

11. Lower the temp in your fridge
We'll know if the electric nazi (also answers to "Rob") reads this because I have a sneaking suspicion he never thought of it yet. Or maybe he has and we didn't notice?

12. Give up 2 degrees
They say to set my thermostat at 68. Ha! We don't fire up the stove until the temp is less than 65 most days. And when we had only electric heat, I doubt we ever had it even THAT warm in the house!

13. Give up Dry Cleaning
You think we pay people to do our laundry??? Okay, the two suits and one tie we bought at Savers were dry cleaned before wearing. But come on -- really? I think we do okay here. I bet we go there once a year, if that. Depends on how sloppy the old man is when wearing his suit.

14. Stop Wasting Gas
The idea is to monitor tire pressure. Could do better here -- absolutely. Also, it would help to not have to run into town a hundred times a day to fetch and deliver kids. Or if the school district would bus our high-schooler.

15. Avoid Waste: Recycle
You betcha! In the last few years we've really worked on this. As a result, our actual trash volume is about one bag a week. We could use two containers for the recyclables though. Food scraps are composted or given to the chickens. Many containers are re-used for storing herbs and such in. I think we do a ding dang good job at this one.

I think I'd give us a B-/C+. Something to shoot for I guess! But what I'm really intrigued by is their Seven Resolutions for 2011 idea. Meatless Mondays, Trashy Tuesdays, Wacky Wednesdays, Thankful Thursdays, Fruit(ful)y Fridays -- oh yeah, I'm in!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cheap and Cheerful

Here are a few links to various things I make. Two of them have been written by the same guy. I haven't subscribed to his blog, but it seems I should since he has given me all my great cheap-o recipes. All credit goes to Mr. Jabs for these:

kitchen composter

dish detergent

And, from another source:

homemade laundry soap

Now, if anyone reading is going to Mexico, or knows someone who is going to Mexico, could you please have them pick up a couple bars of blue Zote soap for me? I'm a big fan of color, and I'd love to make blue laundry soap.

Here are a few tips for these recipes:

citric acid -- buy it at the wine store. You can use the kool aid recommended in his recipe, but I really recommend using citric acid. The guy at the store will inevitably ask you if you are making cheese or soap.

washing soda -- Be careful on this one. I went to the laundry aisle in a big box store and thought I hit paydirt with my big box of washing soda for less than $3. Nope. They tricked me. It was baking soda. I use it for scouring the tub and sinks anyway, so it wasn't money lost, but it was time lost. Find the real deal in the laundry aisle at Festival.

bar soap -- Yup, you can use Ivory, if you like. Also good are Fels-Naptha, Kirk's Castile, and Zote. The first two are easy to find in the soap department at your grocery store. The latter can be found at the local Mexican grocery store. I love that place anyway, but finding cheap laundry soap -- and more than one kind of it -- is always a day-maker.

shredding the soap -- I use my box grater. Tried with my food processor, but she no likey. I've seen online that people use those parmesan cheese graters, which would be fab if I could score one at Goodwill or Savers. I've read that ye olde salad shooter works well, also. Just haven't found one for cheap at the previously mentioned stores. My mom has this ancient, industrial strength, hand crank, glorified coleslaw shredder that she uses. That thing is slick! Best part: kids fight over who gets to turn the crank.

If you decide to try these, I wish you good luck. The laundry soap especially provides a great mini science lab type opportunity for any young geeklings you might be raising in your home. We cut the recipe in half so it goes in the 2.5 gal containers that you can buy at Weaver's. The last batch lasted 4+ months, including a quart for Grandma.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Man, It's a Brand New Year!

Okay, I pilfered that quote from Better Off Dead. It is a brand new year, though, and with it comes the usual round of "what is your new year's resolution" questions. I don't have one. I never have one anymore.

You see, I have often tried to resolve to do something for a whole year, but, like so many others, I find it rarely works. Making a resolution of something has almost the same effect as saying "I would never __________ ." The minute you say it, you find yourself doing whatever ___________ is. I know this a) because everything I said I could never do I have done as a nurse, and b) last year I resolved to spend 30 minutes outside, every day. Umm, yeah. Not so much. It doesn't seem to matter if I trumpet said goal from the rooftops or write it quietly in my journal. The moment I commit to it, I fail.

My approach now is very similar to what I used to teach patients about managing their diabetes. You've got a lot to do: don't panic! Let's break this down into small, manageable steps. Oooh -- another take-away from Better Off Dead : Monique tells Lane, "I think you need a small taste of success and you will find it suits you." So, instead of yearlong commitments, I do little "projects." Project homemade bread started out as a "let's see how long this will go on" activity, and it lasted more than a year! Project snotrag (or sno-trag, as Grandma called it, and now we do, too) is a permanent fixture. Project make-your-own-laundry soap has lasted more than six months. Baby steps.

I don't have a new project in mind yet. I've got some ideas, though. I was showing sister Sarah and brother-in-law Justin how to make laundry soap yesterday. In the process, Justin pointed out how similar it is to making bar soap. A-ha! So today I shredded up a couple bars of castile soap and melted it down to combine with homegrown peppermint and rosemary. Mmmm! Smells good! It remains to be seen if it was a successful trial yet, but I could see myself getting hooked on making specialty bar soap.

So there. What is my new year's resolution? Dunno. It will find me soon enough.