Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September Garden Plans

 What happened to the last weeks? I realize that it is too late in the month to be talking about what we plan to do in September as the month is nearly over. But just for my records, I'm doing this post anyway. 

(And hoping that it doesn't take me as long to get October's garden planning post up.)

September can be a wonderful gardening month. The weather usually cools, making picking more pleasant than in August but the harvest is often abundant.

We spent Saturday making applesauce. I love the fall aroma of apples cooking on the stove. (The sad part is that we need at least 100 quart of applesauce so this won't be my last applesauce making day this fall.)

The problem with September is that I'm usually burned out. No longer are fresh veggies exciting as in the spring. I've given up the war with the weeds and bugs. Chewed leaves no longer make me angry. "Just eat the old things and see if I care."

But this month did see the end of the major garden preserving and I am slowly finding that I once again enjoy walking out in the garden for a few peppers, handful of green beans, and some red beets. Soon we will be harvesting cabbage and broccoli.

The tomato plants are mostly dead but I haven't pulled them out since we are still enjoying an occasional tomato. And the peppers are still lovely. Not sure what they are living on since I quit watering them.

The garden isn't the lovely sight it was in early summer but the areas we had mulched or planted a cover crop are nearly weed free. It does make me a little sad to think that soon a frost will bring and end to the fresh garden eating.

Here is my list of jobs for September month in my garden.

1. Take each opportunity to enjoy the garden produce – even when enthusiasm is flagging.

2. Plant lettuce, spinach, and kale in the cold frame.

3. As areas of the garden are finished for the season, add compost, lime, mulch or plant a cover crop. In our late corn patch, I just cut down the stalks and let them fall. They will rot down by spring.

4. Save seeds. I only saved tomato and zinnia seeds this year but I hope to learn more about seed saving in the future. Regina shared about saving flowerseeds in a past post. 

5. Since our weather has been very dry, keep watering the fall cabbage and broccoli. Also water the new strawberry patch. In the photo above you can see the strawberries with the soaker hose.This is the greenest part of our garden (and also the weediest.)

Is your garden over? Or are you enjoying a fall garden?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Make Your Own Marble Roller Coaster From Paper

 We spent a fun Sunday afternoon building a marble roller coaster using only paper and tape. 

We were inspired by the video of Andrew Gatt's paper roller coaster. Ours was not nearly as impressive but a fun challenge for our family.

And it was only our first attempt. I expect we will spend more afternoons crafting more elaborate designs this winter.

We bought Andrew Gatt's download and were impressed by the directions and patterns. This would be a great project for a school teacher. We plan to do this with our homeschool group.

And when you are done - you get to watch the marbles.

What fun projects does your family do on lazy afternoons? (Naps don't count, of course.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How to Make Oil-Packed Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I have dried tomatoes for several years, but I have had trouble rehydrating them easily for use.

Last year I tried placing them in oil - and found a winner. They were ready for instant use on pizza or salad. This year, I made sure that I had two jars of these tomatoes stored for winter. An added benefit is that one quart jar will hold a pan full of tomatoes - a great space saver in the pantry.

Here was the steps I followed.

1. Dehydrate tomatoes. I followed these directions for drying tomatoes. I like to dry them until they are leathery. When making tomato powder, I like to dehydrate a little longer until they are crispy. But for oil-packed tomatoes, I like them to still be bendable but with no moisture remaining.

2. Next I set up a dipping station. For safety, I dip the dried tomatoes in apple-cider vinegar. I use tongs to dip the tomato slices in vinegar, allow to drip for a few seconds, then layer them in a quart jar.

I continue dipping and layering until I have used all the tomatoes.

3. I then fill the jar with olive oil - making sure the tomatoes are completely covered with oil. This seems like a lot of oil but it won't be wasted. After using the tomatoes, I love to make salad dressing with this tomato-infused oil.

As the the tomatoes soak up the oil, they may sink down further in the jar. If you are making more batches of dehydrated tomatoes, you can add more vinegar-dipped tomatoes to the jar, adding more oil if needed.

4. Store the jar of oil-packed tomatoes in a dark place.The color of the tomatoes will change but they will stay tasty for over a year.

5. To use, fish out a tomato with a clean fork. Chop and add to a salad or pizza. Enjoy the intense flavor of summer.

Monday, September 21, 2015

How to Save Tomato Seeds

I remember an old friend of our family who, every time he ate an especially yummy tomato, would squeeze out a few seeds into a bowl to save for next year. In the spring, he had a bowl of "who-knows-what-kind" of tomato seeds to plant.

I enjoy trying new things and this year, just for fun, I decided to save some of my own tomato seeds to plant next year. But I chose to be a little more deliberate about my seed saving than our friend.

First I chose a lovely Amish Paste tomato from the garden. 

Amish Paste is an open-pollinated (sometimes called an heirloom) tomato. This means that it is not a hybrid. A hybrid is created by crossing to different parent plants to make seed for a new hybrid variety. Seeds saved from a hybrid tomato will not produce tomatoes like the tomato they were taken from so choose an open-pollinated tomato.

Tomato flowers will generally fertilize themselves so even if you grow several kinds of tomatoes, you should have pure seed. It is possible, especially for larger flowering varieties, to cross pollinate and make their own hybrid, but from what I've read, it is not likely.

Choose a tomato that has the characteristics that you want. I chose a tomato from a plant that had been slow to catch blight, in hopes that it has some genetic resistance to blight. You might choose your earliest, tastiest, largest, healthiest, or other characteristic that you wish to select for next year.

You will still get to eat the tomato, so it is not a sacrifice to choose the best.

Cut open the tomato and squeeze some seeds into a jar. If you have several varieties of tomatoes, be sure to label each jar.

At this point I chose to ferment the tomato seeds. This is not absolutely necessary but it helps the tomato seeds to separate from the gel and can help get rid of the bad seeds.

Make sure the seeds are covered with liquid. If the tomato did not have enough juice, just add a little water to the jar.

Set the jar in a dark place for 3 to 5 days.

The seeds will probably grow a layer of mold on top. That is normal. Just remove the mold and add some more water and stir. Wait a few minutes. The good seeds should sink. Carefully pour off the water and the bad seeds and bits of pulp.

I used a sieve to help pour off the remaining water.

I rinsed the seeds until none of the pulp remained.

Then place the seeds on a paper plate or piece of newspaper. Don't use a paper towel because the seeds will stick and be nearly impossible to remove. But don't use a plastic or glass plate as you want the water to be absorbed. 

Let the seeds completely dry for a day or two. Then place the seeds in an airtight container or bag. Tomato seeds will last for years at room temperature and will last even longer if kept in the refrigerator or freezer - as long as they are kept completely dry.

Next spring, I'll let you know how these seeds grow.

Have you ever saved tomato seeds?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Camping Food and Other Rambles

After a busy summer, we took a few days off this week to go camping at Canoe Creek State Park.

A canoe strapped on top, two kayaks on the ceiling of the trailer, bikes below, plus food and luggage in every spare corner - we were loaded down with all the necessities for four days of fun.

We rented a cabin, much to the relief of this mom who didn't think she could handle another rainy tenting experience right now. But even though we had access to a kitchen, when we go camping, Ed wants to cook all our food on the campfire.

(Only exception: his morning coffee. It was just too tempting to make coffee in the kitchen each morning before going out to start the campfire.)

I have trouble thinking of ideas for camping food so I'm sharing what we ate in hopes that it will give future camp chefs some ideas.

After we unpacked, we roasted hotdogs, warmed up a can of baked beans, and made bread-on-a-stick.

For bread-on-a-stick, at home I had mixed up some Miracle Bread dough and froze it. While we settled into our cabin, I allowed the dough to thaw. To bake the bread, Ed pulled off a piece of dough and rolled it into a long"snake." Then he wrapped it around the stick. We tried using metal hotdog sticks and also sticks picked up from the nearby woods that the boys scraped the bark off of. The wooden sticks worked much better then the metal since the dough stayed on better.

The bread was not baked perfectly. the outside well-toasted and the inside raw;  but it was fun to make and was all consumed. It tasted a little like soft pretzels.

In the morning, Ed fried sausage  and scrambled eggs on the griddle and cooked grits in the dutch oven.

Feeding his family enough calories to fill a day full of activity!

We spent the morning exploring some of the hiking trails in the park. For a while I had company that kept my pace before she decided that dad's backpack was a better option.  I was the plodder on all our adventures this week, usually behind the others, whether on foot or bike.

But I usually had time to catch up and get my breath when there was fascinating sites to explore, like the remains of an old lime kiln.

We found a limestone quarry to climb, strange tree formations, some great overlooks, several geo-caches, a bat cave, and even a large black snake.

By the time we got back to the cabin, we had good appetites for lunch. I had planned lunches that we could take on our excursions, not knowing what we would do each day. But this day we ate chicken salad wraps, chips, and sliced apples at the cabin.

In the afternoon we headed down to the lake at the park. Our little girlie was excited about her first ride in the canoe. Until she got in. Then she screamed her displeasure. Ed dropped the two of us onto the nearest bank.

I put her in the stoller and within minutes, she was sleeping. The poor thing was just too tired for fun on the lake.

But the other children (and dad) made up for her lack of enthusiasm.

Even I had a chance to paddle the kayak. It had been a while since I dipped a paddle in the water. Brilliant  blue water and warm sunshine - a perfect September day.

For supper we made baked potatoes in the coals and chili in the dutch oven. Ed fried out the ground beef, added beans, water, and my homemade seasoning mix which included homemade tomato powder.

We went back to the lake to try our hand at fishing. We had  few nibbles, but mostly just enjoyed the perfect evening.

I think this was the only moment that I caught Ed standing still and enjoying the view. Mostly he was kept busy baiting hooks and untangling lines.

Back at our campsite, we toasted marshmallows and popped corn over the campfire. Perfect ending to the day.

We began Tuesday with a pancake breakfast.

A few miles from the park is the Lower (rhymes with Flower) Rail Trail. We decided to try a few miles. It was prettier than we expected, following the river, and almost completely level. Round trip, we biked nine mile.

At our turn-around point, we stopped in the little town of Williamsburg where we found a nice park along the trail to eat our ham sandwiches. Some cold drinks from the store next door were appreciated too. 

In the afternoon, the children and Ed went down to the lake for more water sports. I'm not sure how much time was spent in kayaks and how much in the water, but they came back soaked.

I attempted to nap with the 20-month old but apparently she had slept enough in the bike trailer to make that impossible. You moms may have experienced the scenario. Lay down for 30 seconds, sit up, adjust your blanket, lay down, sit up, find your dolly, lay down, suck on your fingers, sit up, ask mom to cover your feet with your blanket, lay down...and so on. After an hour of that, I chose to appreciate the few minutes of semi-quiet that I had enjoyed and go join the rest of the family.

For supper, Ed sauteed carrots, onions, and peppers in the dutch oven. Then he added water, rice, seasonings, and boneless chicken thighs. I thought we had prepared a large pan-full but the fresh air must be prompting good appetites as there wasn't many leftovers.

While supper cooked, we played some loud games of Pit.

In the evening we went back to the lake for more fishless fishing. None of the other fishermen seemed to be having success so we didn't feel too badly.

Back at the campsite Ed made chocolate brownies for a bedtime snack. It was too dark for pictures, and there were no leftovers to photograph in the morning.

For breakfast Ed made a wonderful whole wheat coffee cake in the dutch oven. I had prepared dry mixes for most of the food we made such as pancakes, coffee cake, and brownies. I placed all the dry ingredients in a ziplock bag and added a note with what ingredients were needed such as milk, water, eggs, or oil. This made super easy cooking while camping.

Some of you have discovered the secret: camping with children is not a vacation for mom. We take our work with us. But I do think that I'm learning a few things to make camping less stressful. Easy food prep is obvious.

And it is worth camping to see the children's enjoyment. Maybe the best part for me is that Ed gives his undivided attention to the children. Most days, I'm the sole parent. I have no idea how single parents do it because I'm always ready to turn the responsibility over to Ed when he gets home from work each evening. But to have his 24-hour parenting is a break for mom even if camping itself isn't.

And Ed says that all this exercise is keeping us young.

But back to breakfast. We added bacon, leftover baked potatoes fried with some onion and peppers and scrambled eggs to our coffee cake. We feasted well this morning.

The morning was still cool and foggy, but just like the other days, it warmed up to perfect 70 degree weather once the sun came up.

We had enjoyed the Lower Trail so much that we went back to bike another section, this time starting six miles below Williamsburg. A kind-hearted biker offered to take our family picture.

Again the trail ran along the water with many benches to enjoy a break and the view.

We stopped at the same park at Williamsburg to enjoy what our children call a "snackie" lunch - baloney, cheese, crackers, and apples. We have loved these Contigo Trekker water bottles. They do not leak and go with us on every trip and bike ride.

In the afternoon, back at the park, we tried our hand at disc golf.

We didn't do so well, but it was our first attempt and something we will probably try again.

Ed toasted quesadillas for supper.

I like to end a vacation with a meal that can use up leftovers. Quesadillas were perfect. I layered tortillas with chopped chicken, sausage, rice, chili, and beans. Add a sprinkle of mozarella cheese to hold it all together. Toast each side. Serve with salsa. Yum!

We went back to the lake for the evening. This time, Ed tried taking our littlest girl in the kayak. Whether she felt more secure on dad's lap than mom's or just wanted to have fun like the big children, she loved it. She spent the whole evening in the kayak. But I had not brought the camera to capture her grin.

We paddled until nearly dark and reluctantly pulled into shore. The two kayaks and canoe, plus all the life jackets and paddles had added to our load but but also our enjoyment.

We enjoyed more toasted marshmallows and popcorn before scrubbing off the dirt layers and heading for bed.

Our last morning, Ed made yummy cinnamon french toast which we slathered with peanut butter and syrup. Then we got to work packing, loading up, and cleaning the cabin.

By ten o'clock we were back on the Lower Trail. We had decided to finish the last five miles, making a ten mile round trip. This part of the trail was even more rural and for most of the trail we could hear nothing but the gurgle of the stream.

We stopped for another snackie lunch at one of the benches along the trail - digging through the leftovers to find more baloney, cheese, crackers, cookies, apples, and other random items.

Then we loaded up our bikes for one last time. We spent the afternoon at the Allegheny Portage Railroad Historical site near Altoona. I enjoyed it more than I expected.

Having a ten-year-old got our family into the site without charge. If you are visiting a National Park in the next year, bring along a forth-grader for free passes thanks to the "Every Kid in a Park" program.

After a short but steep hike at the Portage Railroad, there was no complaints about an air-conditioned ride home.

Today, all we have left are memories, photos, and a huge stack of laundry.


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