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I said I was going to share a recipe I found with y’all, and here it is. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the final cakes because they were eaten so fast! Even my picky 6 year old wolfed these down one after another. Although this recipe works out to make about a dozen little patties, I’ll probably double it next time. Everyone at the table wanted to eat more… but they were gone.

 

Cajun Fish Cakes

4 6-8oz fillets of any white fish (I used Swai, whatever the hell that is)

1.5 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

1 egg, beaten

2 Tablespoons yellow or brown mustard

1 cup stale bread crumbs or cracker crumbs (I used saltines)

1 cup fat (EVOO, Crisco, butter, or what I used – bacon grease)

1 cup Miracle Whip

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teastpoon lemon juice

 

Directions:

1. Cook the fish. Bake it, fry it, toss it on a grill – whatever method you choose is fine. I sauteed it in a pan on the stove top. When the fish is cooked thoroughly, remove it from the heat and put all four fillets into a medium mixing bowl. Season the fish with 1.5 T Cajun seasoning. Stir the seasoning in well with a fork, breaking the large chunks of fish into tiny flakes as you go. Add the beaten egg, mustard, and bread crumbs. Stir well.

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2. In a large, flat frying pan, heat the oil on medium low temperature on the stove top. While it’s heating, make a quick remoulade sauce by combining the Miracle Whip, garlic, lemon juice, and remaining 1 t Cajun seasoning in a small bowl – then set it on the table.

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3. Patty the fish into cakes about 3″ across and 3/4-1″ deep. You should end up with around a dozen. This turned into a two-person job for us. My husband pattied and handed them to me while I mother-henned over all of the cakes in the oil, flipping them as needed. It was a lot more efficient than working alone. (Thanks, honey!) Each cake took about two minutes per side.

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4. Remove the cakes as they finish to a serving plate. Let cool slightly before eating. Spread a dollop of sauce over each cake, then mow down. Make animal grunting noises. Lick your plate clean and stare hungrily at the cake your child is taking his dear, sweet time finishing.

 

There you have it! I hope you enjoy these as much as we did. They are a fabulous way to use up boring old white fish sitting around in your freezer. I paired it with a homemade tortilla soup, fresh cut-up pears, and chips and salsa. Let me know how your family likes it!

So the end of August is upon us, and with it comes the smell of fall in the air. As with every other year I have raised a garden, I have learned a lot. One of the best lessons from this year was that prepared soil makes all the difference. I planted dozens of different items, but only about half of them did much thanks to the crappy soil. I figure with the end of the growing season upon us, I should go through and make some notes for myself and anyone else who is interested.

Potatoes – I planted 5 pounds and got 27 pounds in return. Not too shabby. Next year I’ll try larger varieties because these tiny ones were a pain in the ass to process. I will plant more next year. We are already halfway through them.

Radishes – I planted these between the onions, and they grew really well. Unfortunately, we aren’t big fans of radishes. The chickens got most of them – they seemed to enjoy it.

Onions – First year starting from seed. Next time I will only do 5-6 per cell and start them earlier. They are finally bulbing up, but I expect to only have 1-3″ diameter bulbs. The whites did a lot better than the reds, despite similar conditions. They aren’t yet soft in the neck, so I’ll let them keep growing until they’re done or it frosts. I should have a couple hundred.

Eggplants – Tried and true Ping Tung gave me about a dozen fruits for the four plants I put in. There are still several forming. The Casper gave me five total fruits, all of which were malformed/diseased. Not a big fan – won’t plant those again.

Cabbage – I planted four different kinds. They have all done especially well. The heads are rounding out and should be ready to be picked in the next few days. I plan on making slaw and kraut, and hanging some long-storing ones in the basement for winter use.

Beets – Only a few seeds took. Those few sprouted magnificent greens and puny roots. Pretty sure it was the poor soil and uneven watering that caused this.

Carrots – Same as the beets. First time I’ve never had any carrots to show. How embarrassing!

Cucumbers – The plants all came up, then flowered at only 6″ high. They are flowering like crazy, but not fruiting. The flowers are falling off, although we have lots of pollinators flying around.

Beans – Despite the rough start thanks to the local deer population, they came back. But they were weak. Put out a few thin little beans that I will try to dry to save seeds, but nothing like I had hoped.

Peas – Only grew to about 6″ high and put out a few scrawny peas. From beets to peas were all planted in the very back section of the garden. I’m pretty sure that’s where the soil was the worst. Nothing did well back there.

Watermelons – They put out vines a couple feet long, but were planted too late to set fruit. They are just now flowering, so I’m fairly sure we won’t see any fruit before a frost. Next year, we’ll plant earlier.

Corn – Row plantings grew a couple feet high. Have yet to tassle. Three sisters plantings are around 4′ tall and more robust. There’s something to that. They were planted over a month later than they should have been, though, so I might still not harvest anything.

Squash – Vigorous growth recently due to all of the rain and mild temperatures. Multiple flowers showing. There might be enough time to get a harvest or two of the summer squash, and I’ll cross my fingers for the winter squash.

Asparagus – Died back when I transplanted it. I thought I killed it. That shit is tough. It popped back up even more vigorous than before. I’ll wait a few years before I harvest.

Artichokes – Holy cool summer, Batman! Artichokes are a heat loving plant, and they didn’t appreciate that all through July our night time temperatures never seemed to go above the 40’s. It was a strange season, that’s for sure. The plants didn’t make it, and I won’t try them again.

Tomatoes – Doing FABULOUS! I ended up putting in about 80 plants, and only a few have had trouble setting fruit. My biggest mistake with tomatoes was not labeling them well. My permanent marker washed right off of the wood labels I had made, so I had no idea what kind of plants I had until the fruit was mature. They have just started turning red this past week, but there are hundreds of fruits. Even if the frosts come, I know I’ll be able to pick the greenies to ripen in storage. Principe Borghese was a pleasant surprise – set a lot of fruit and ripened quicker than the rest. Roman Candle wasn’t very productive compared to the others. Paul Robeson and Big Rainbow are still my favorites for flavor.

Peppers – Doing FABULOUS! I’m pleased as punch that they started producing the moment I got them in the ground, although it got to be a bit of a pain having them so big in here. Next year I might plant them a few weeks later. I won’t do Hungarian Hot Wax – they made my dear husband cry they were so hot. I could barely handle them. Cubanelles were the most prolific, followed by the Marconi sweets. I won’t raise California Wonder again. They didn’t produce a ton, and what they did produce was pretty runty. The Purple Beauty peppers produced well and gave a beautiful splash of color. The Albino Bullnose were very small sweet bells that needed a lot of extra calcium to prevent blossom end rot – twice as much as the others.

Rice – I’m going to try this again next year, but a little different. I would like to expand the cavernous hole at the bottom of our hill where we took soil to fill the raised strawberry beds. Then I will line it with pond liner. I need a deeper “paddy” than the kiddie pool. I would like to mess around with aeration, too, perhaps finding a small solar set-up. When I transplanted the rice, much of it died. It was very root bound, and I had to tear it apart a lot to get it out of the buckets. Next year I might just start it like regular plants in individual cells to decrease transplanting stress.

Flowers – I had mixed results with flowers. I planted most of them too late into the summer to set flowers. My marigolds are still all green. Next year I would like to start them earlier, so I hope the weather cooperates. One can hope. The sunflowers just yesterday started showing heads. I may or may not harvest before the frosts.

As far as the soft fruit patch goes, I let the strawberries run wild after picking the flowers off for nearly a month. We ended up getting a bowl of berries a day until a few weeks ago. The June-bearing have far outgrown the everbearing, setting out more runners and bigger leaves. I look forward to a large harvest next year. The elderberries took off, and are setting fruit as we speak. Their large, white flower heads are turning into heads of berries. It won’t be a lot, but something is better than nothing. Everything else is still growing and only time will tell when they flower. We checked on the blueberries in the south field. The ones that survived our harsh winter are doing alright. I want to transplant them back over here this fall.

And now… some pictures of what I’ve been harvesting the last few weeks.

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Tomorrow I will share an awesome meal idea that I tried out last night to rave reviews from everyone in our family – including our picky 6 year old. Have a great weekend!

I am still learning when it comes to cutting back our grocery bills. Over the past few years I have taught myself how to make my own bread, laundry detergent, canned goods, and many other things from scratch. Where most people pay $5 for a decent loaf of whole grain bread at the store… I pay less than $0.50 a loaf by grinding my own wheat and buying ingredients like yeast in bulk. Instead of spending $10 on a gallon of laundry detergent that does 72 loads, I can my my own gallon of dry laundry detergent that does hundreds of loads for about $7.

But it’s not enough. With the way grocery prices are skyrocketing (~30% increase in the last 10 years), it only makes sense to keep seeking ways to save. After all, how many of us have had our wages increase 30% in proportion in that time? Not us, that’s for sure!

So lately I have started really pursuing ad matches. I take a look at all the printed store ads for every grocer within 60 miles of where we shop (mostly in Marinette, Wisconsin) and I make detailed lists to follow on every shopping trip. Here are some examples from ads I used this week:

Aldi’s – https://www.aldi.us/en/weekly-specials/special-buys-for-aug-20/

  • Avocados $0.49 each

Copp’s – http://www.copps.com/Shop/WeeklyAd.aspx

  • 16 oz Kraft singles 2/$4.00
  • Gala apples $0.99/lb
  • 2 lb C&H brown sugar or powdered sugar $1.89 each
  • Barilla pastas 12-16oz 4/$5.00
  • Nature Valley 6-12 ct granola bars $2.50
  • Nutrigrain bars $2.50 each

Festival Foods (Green Bay East) – http://www2.festfoods.com/WeeklyAd/Store/2766/_SS_48AT9R0EB7C1418P7261B716WIuN6L53FC7BA0%7C235124%7C1408221124%7C%7C%7C

  • Bananas $0.28/lb
  • Bartlett pears $0.98/lb
  • 16oz JIF peanut butter $1.49
  • Hunts ketchup 24oz $0.78
  • Hunts snack pack pudding 4 packs $0.78
  • 8oz Kraft shredded cheeses $1.98

It may not seem like much alone, but if I use ad matching to stock up on essentials one at a time, it’s adding up to be quite the savings. I just bought 12 pounds of peanut butter for $17.88 when I normally get 5 pounds for $11.62. At the normal price, 12 pounds would have cost $27.89 – ten dollars more. Ouch! I’m thankful I make my own jelly because I couldn’t see spending the $5 a jar they ask for at the store. Holy cow! I pay maybe $0.50 a jar, and make at least two years at a time so I won’t run dry. We eat a lot of pb&j’s here!

By using ad matching, I am able to cut some prices over half. It’s like getting a buy one get one free. So instead of stocking up slowly as some prepper sites recommend (for example, when you do normal shopping, buy two instead of the one you need, and sock away the extra one) I am able to buy twice as much and stock up twice as fast. We now have enough peanut butter and ketchup to last the next six months. Since we only have room for about 6 months worth of food on our shelving system in the basement, I try not to stock up further than that. (Aside from my wheat berries and whole grains that I buy by the bucket. Those don’t go on the shelves, so I stock a year at a time for those.) Someday we’ll build more shelving. Maybe even as soon as this winter.

It gives me a good feeling to know that I am not only saving money, but stocking up for the future as well. Combined with our efforts on the homestead, we should be able to feed our family even if something bad were to happen. I’m not talking end of the world stuff, but normal things like job loss and injury. We’ve been through it already. We’ve had to rely on family and friends for help. We don’t want to be put in that situation ever again. I can’t wait until we have our own meat in the freezer – that will be a huge saver.

Ad matching varies seasonally as well. I know that around Thanksgiving I’ll find the best ad matches for bulk sugar, flour, and other baking essentials. Fall is the best time for buying bulk apples. Mid-summer is the best time for peaches. After Christmas is usually a good time for meats. At least in our area – these fluctuations may not apply everywhere.

Savings and food security go hand in hand. What are you doing to lower your grocery bill and stock up? Tell me about it in the comments. If you write a blog, leave a link to your similar article(s).

Unless you are lucky enough to live in Hawaii or South America, you probably don’t get to eat too much fresh pineapple. Around here, they usually run $3-4 a piece, so it’s not something I buy on a regular basis. When I saw that I could ad-match pineapples thanks to a sale in Green Bay, I jumped on it and quickly bought four.

I’ll be honest, we usually stock up on tinned pineapple. Sometimes I’ll even splurge for store-bought dried pineapple chunks. While still delicious, they have nothing on the sweet, acidic zing of a fresh pineapple. Is it possible to keep that unique flavor intact by home preservation? Yes!

Start out by gathering a cutting utensil, cutting board, pineapples, and dehydrator.

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Cut the tops and bottoms off of each pineapple. If you have chickens, they’ll love picking all of the flesh off of the pineapple scraps. If not, you could compost the extra bits or use the top to grow a whole new pineapple plant.

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Carefully cut off the hard skin of the fruit with a large knife. It’s easier if you stand the pineapple up and cut from the top down in thin strips. Once all of the skin is off, use your fingernail or a small paring knife to remove any deep pocks left over.

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Once your fruit is cleared of skin bits, cut it into quarters from the top down, then cut the woody center out of each quarter. I think you can technically eat that center, but man… is it tough! No, thanks. I’d rather let the chickens make quick work of those.

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At this point, you’ll have notched wedges that need to be sliced thinly. I used a knife, but if you have a mandolin or food processor with slicing blade you can use those as well. Try to keep the slices under 1/4″ thick for faster drying times.

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Line them all up on the trays so they aren’t touching. They have so much sugar in them that they’ll stick together if they’re touching. Yeah, still edible, but not as pretty if you have to tear them apart. I’m such a terrible perfectionist.

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I put it on 125° in my Excalibur. They took about 16 hours to dry leather-hard, then I removed them and put them in quart sized Ziploc bags. You can also store them in clean Mason jars or airtight Gladware. For long term (1+ years), consider using Mylar with oxygen absorbers appropriate to the size of your Mylar bag.

To get the dried pineapple unstuck from the mesh screens, put the screen flat on the counter and use a pastry cutter.

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Grapes were also on sale this week, and seeing as we won’t be harvesting our own grapes for at least another year, I stocked up to make raisins. Making raisins is easy. All I did was wash the grapes really well under running water, cut them in half, then arrange them on the trays cut-side-up. Four pinapples yielded 3 full quart bags. I got one quart of raisins from about 2.5 pounds of red, seedless grapes.

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Store-bought, chemical laden* dried pineapple has NOTHING on homemade. Yum!

 

*Store-bought may contain: sugar, dextrose, glucose syrup, fruit juice, coloring derived from fruit, glycerin (422), sorbic acid (200), sulphur dioxide (220), paraffin, BHA (320), edible fats, and oils.

So the site that I was writing for, Heritage Homesteaders, is going under. They will publish my final contribution tomorrow, but have given permission to the authors to reclaim their articles. The following is my final article for Heritage Homesteaders.


I’ve tried every chicken feeder on the market. From the long, squat feeders that sit on the floor of the coop to the hanging feeders that spin on a rope from the ceiling. I’ve tried the ones that have covers with head-sized holes and the ones with a spinning bar across the top to discourage standing in the food. Every time I have purchased a feeder from the store, I’ve been disappointed and frustrated. If the chickens aren’t walking and defecating in their food, then they’re scattering it to the winds and wasting half of it.

I am fed up with store-bought feeders.

My solution came in the form of a pile of scraps from our recent shed-building adventure. We had extra bits and pieces of T1-11 siding, 2×4’s, 2×8’s, OSB, and plenty of fasteners. I sorted through them and came up with a plan. I wanted something that could hold an entire 50# bag of feed. I wanted a feeder that was up off of the floor enough that the chickens couldn’t scratch it all over the place or defecate in it. I wanted something that looked nice and was easy to clean out.

First, I got the general shape of it. It would have a sturdy, wide base. I made it wide enough that it would overlap two wall studs by several inches, that way I could secure it tightly to the coop wall. I used 2×8’s for the base, angling them in toward the 2×4’s that would secure the front of the feeder in place. I added bracing to have something to screw the front to, then cut out the front piece to fit snugly inside the 2×8’s and over top of all of the 2×4’s.

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Once the two main pieces were complete, I took them into the coop and installed the main frame onto the wall. I used a few wood scraps to achieve the height from the floor that I thought I would need. The chickens were happy to help me get the measurements right, the nosy things. I secured the feeder to the coop wall studs with four long screws, two on each stud. It easily held my weight, so I knew 50# of feed would be no problem.

My flock is about six weeks old and six to seven pounds each. This breed will more than double in size before they’re done growing, so I raised the feeder a bit above where they were able to comfortably reach now. Plus, as winter comes closer, I’ll be laying down more straw to give them deep litter. If I need to raise the feeder, it will be a simple matter to unscrew the front and raise the entire contraption up.

Next, I installed the front panel and put a strip of panel across the bottom of the feeder to make the feed tray complete. Note that the front panel was a few inches short of making the top. I fixed that with some OSB. It will all get painted eventually, so I’m not worried about it looking like it was made from scrap. The chickens were so curious what this big contraption was!

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The final touches included putting on the roofs and filling the feeder with some high quality feed. I made sure to angle them thanks to past experience. Chickens will roost on and completely ruin any flat surface. I filled the feeder, and the birds went bananas fighting over who got to eat first. The only ones that had trouble were my little lavender guineas. They are quite a bit smaller than the chickens and royal purple guineas, but they figured out they were just the right size to perch on the edge and pig out. That will work fine until they finish growing.

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So far I’m very pleased with my handiwork. There’s nary a turd in their food and they haven’t wasted a speck by scratching it all over the place. My next project in the chicken coop will be some homemade chicken waterers. If you’ve ever had to use a store-bought waterer, you probably understand my frustrations with them. They’re dirty and wimpy. Sometimes I feel like if I want something to work right on this homestead, I have to make it. Cheers for power tools and ingenuity!

To see how we built our palatial chicken coop, and for future progress updates on its construction, check out my personal blog – The Atheist Homesteader.

August 2014
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