Projects on the Prairie – Part 1

The Food Pantry

We have two families under one roof with 9 people. Sarah’s older son is visiting for the summer.  Since the Covid 19 pandemic we’ve been eating together.  I was cooking separately for John and I  because we have some dietary restrictions and we eat earlier in the day. That was just too complicated and too many cooks in the kitchen!

I’m fortunate to have a lot of cabinet space and a separate laundry room/food pantry.  But over the years the cabinets and laundry room have become a place for extra storage.  I have a reputation in the family for being a “tightwad”.  I call it frugal.  The thought of renting a storage unit to store extra junk would never cross my mind .  However, I’ve resorted to buying a pantry for extra food storage when I could sort through all the cabinets to make room for the extra food that is coming into our house.  Right now with gardening, raising chickens, and canning I just didn’t have the energy.  This unit I bought can always be used for my quilting and sewing supplies if it’s no longer needed for food in the future.  Plus, I got a great buy.

I purchased this direct from Sauder online.  Years ago I purchased a Sauder office desk when I was working from home as a Mortgage Broker and it’s still holding up very well. I love the built in shelves on the side door.  Shipping was free also.  This is not a paid commercial!  The only downside is that it came in many pieces.  John is quite mechanical but he really wasn’t in the mood to be putting this together.  After he laid out the pieces it went together pretty fast. 

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Best Laid Plans

In a recent post, Life Has Changed On The Prairie I told how my son and daughter-in-law brought their rabbits when they had to move. The rabbit family has kept on growing and it was time to harvest and process. This time Sarah asked me if I would can them. I’ve canned chicken and the process is basically the same. I always rely on USDA guidelines for processing which can be found online. Please do not use blog sites or family as the final authority on instructions or processing times. It’s not worth the risk!

Sarah did the hard work of harvesting and deboning. She decided to can without the bone. I just got together all the equipment needed:

  1. Mirro Pressure Canner with weight, rubber gasket and canning rack
  2. Canning jars (no mayonnaise jars)
  3. Lids and rings
  4. Jar lifter
  5. Towel and wire grates to set hot jars after processing
  6. Large Deep pan

After reading the instructions, I determined the processing time was 90 minutes with a 10 pound pressure for our altitude. When Sarah started harvesting, I placed the jars in the dishwasher for washing and kept the jars in the heat cycle until we were ready to pack. The rabbit was put into the large pan filed with water and a brine ratio of 1 tablespoon canning salt per quart. This helps draw out the blood. If the rabbits were wild it would help remove the gamey taste.

I put about two inches of water in the pressure canner on low heat when the deboning began. Working with a pressure canner is really much easier than a water bath because you’re not working with a heavy canner filled with hot water.

Once the jars were loosely packed and lids and rings added they went into the canner. It’s important that the warm jars go into water that’s also warm to prevent glass breakage. After putting in 6 quart jars, we closed the lid and started the process known as venting. This is bringing up the heat to the point that a full head of steam is coming out the top vent for a period of 10 minutes. This helps remove all of the the air from the canner to get the correct temperature and pressure. The pressure “jiggler” is then put on the top of the canner.  The countdown begins.

Once I hear that “rockin and rollin” noise with the “jiggler”, I can start my 90 minute countdown.  Each pressure canner is different.  My instructions says it should jiggle 1 to 3 times per minute.  It’s important to go by your instructions so you can maintain proper pressure.  If you have a dial type canner, then the pressure is shown on the dial.  After 90 minutes, the fire is turned off and I wait 45 minutes before attempting to open the canner.  This allows the pressure to drop and it’s safe to open.

So far everything went as planned.  When I opened the canner, I was very saddened to see that one of the jars had broke!  I did inspect my jars but it’s possible there was a hairline crack.  I put the other jars on the counter to cool and seal until the next morning. I did check the lids before I went to bed and all had sealed.

The next morning, on closer inspection, I noticed one of the jars had a thin black line inside of the jar! I’ve never had that happen before so I immediately started checking online and couldn’t find any similar situation.  Even during the Coronavirus Pandemic, the local county Extension Agents were available, but working from home. A picture sent (see bottom middle picture) to the agent and I had my response the next day.  Because my seal was intact, she felt the line is a reflection of where the liquid level was either when the jars went into the canner or at some point during processing.  It was possible that it could be a combination of denatured proteins (a change in the structure of the protein). She felt the food was safe but recommended boiling for 11 minutes prior to tasting as an extra precaution.  If there was an off odor at any time, to discard the food.  I felt relieved with this information.  After losing one jar (one rabbit) to a broken jar, it’s tough to throw out another.  But better safe than sorry!

One might ask if all the work of canning and possible losses is worth it.  I still enjoy freezing food but when you’re busy it’s a blessing to have a healthy dinner in a jar.

 

A New Twist on an Old Way

This paradigm shift we’re experiencing right now is forcing our family to think in new or rather old ways.  A few years back I purchased Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois for myself, my daughter-in-law and my best friend for Christmas.

Frugal person that I am, I purchased it from https://www.thriftbooks.com/share/?code=NeichQeK9l6gc0ie11qkdw%253d%253d  Ok, this is a shameless plug that will give you a 15% discount off their wonderful selection of books and give me a discount off my future orders.  Most of their books are under $4.00 and there is free shipping for orders $10 or more.  These are used books and you can pick the condition.  Most are in good condition.

When I purchased the book, I was very excited about having home baked bread that was not labor intensive and didn’t require an expensive bread machine.  Recipes include The Master Recipe, which is for enjoying an artisan loaf  every day and  so simple to make.  If you want to step it up a notch, there are recipes for pizza, flatbreads and pastries.

My daughter-in-law decided now was the time to dust off the book and start making daily fresh bread.  Yeah!  The less trips to the grocery store, the better. We had our first slice yesterday for lunch.  It’s slightly heavier than  store bought bread,  but still light enough that your family who only eats white Wonder Bread will love.  It’s also a healthy addition to your meal that is actually quite filling.

Our prayers are constantly with our country, our leaders and for those families who are  experiencing loss and sickness.  We’re trying to redeem the time.

redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16

 

 

 

The Season Closes with Surprises

Oklahoma is having unusually warm weather.  The day before our annual Thanksgiving event, known as “Man Week” Man Week Has Arrived, a.k.a. Thanksgiving!, the weatherman reported we would have our first freeze of the season.

I’ve been a little behind with the garden (unmotivated) and I still had jalapeno peppers and green tomatoes growing in the garden.  In a moment of guilt, not wanting to waste food, I immediately began to harvest the peppers and tomatoes. But how to preserve?  It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I have things to do!  John suggested stringing the peppers like his mother used to do.  That sounded like a lot of work to me and I’m all about saving time.  Checked out google for all the alternatives and it did seem like the easiest way to go.

I got out two large craft needles and John got out some green fishing line.  He took one string and I took the other.  It was actually very relaxing working together and it went quite fast.  It also added some color to the kitchen for the Thanksgiving feast.

Next, what to do with the tomatoes?  This year the size of the tomatoes were small but the taste was wonderful.  Too good to waste!  In the past I’ve canned, froze, dried, made tomato jam (very good) but I didn’t have time for that.  I put them in a colander waiting for a magic idea.  Gradually they began ripening and we began eating and enjoying the wonderful flavor of homegrown tomatoes.  I’m so spoiled I don’t buy a store-bought tomato.  There’s just no comparison!

peppers-and-tomatoes

In the middle of all this last-minute harvesting, I discovered a couple of surprises in the girl’s Garden Granddaughters’ Garden. This garden was long forgotten and the Bermuda had taken over.  To my surprise, I found cilantro and lettuce growing. This year was my first attempt at growing cilantro.  Even though I use cilantro to make hot sauce, what I didn’t realize is that cilantro does not like hot weather.  We had a very hot June this year and it never grew.  But the cooler temperatures in November brought it peeking out to greet me.  I harvested what I could by cutting leaves and not pulling the roots and put the garden to bed with straw.  Perhaps the cilantro and lettuce will come up next Spring.

Man Week Has Arrived, a.k.a. Thanksgiving!

When I met my husband I soon learned that Thanksgiving doesn’t revolve around the turkey,  but the deer.  It’s rifle season week in Oklahoma.  Before we bought our home, we would make the trip to his sister’s home in the country so he could deer hunt.  I was very happy when we bought our home in the country so I could have our Thanksgiving dinner at home.

For many years now, I have called the beginning of deer season, “Man Week”. This was due to the invasion of men at our home.  Man Week has now become Man Season as duck hunting has become a popular past time as well.  Deer season has 3 phases: bow, primitive arms and rifle.  John does not bow hunt but we do have friends arriving who do.

A tradition on the first day of rifle season, which is tomorrow, is that John will get up way before day break and cook breakfast and have coffee ready for the men who will be hunting.  This year man week will include our granddaughter who took her first deer last year and is very excited to go out again.

I am a little tired (exhausted) by the time Thanksgiving is over, but it’s a wonderful feeling to have a family and friends tradition  that all look forward to coming back for the next year.

What traditions does your family enjoy around the holidays?

Lazy Day Tomato Sauce

 

Recently I had another batch of tomatoes that needed to be processed. Too many just for eating, but not large enough for canning. Our garden this season has really suffered from the extreme heat that we had in June. Fortunately we have tomatoes, but they’ve been smaller in quantity and size. To complicate matters, I’d recently taken a nasty fall (flip flops are dangerous!) and standing for long periods of time was impossible. I needed to process but it had to be easy.

Usually at the end of the tomato season I’ve tried everything; sun-dried tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, freezing whole, salsa, even tomato jelly! Actually tomato jelly is very good. I’d never made tomato sauce. I think in the back of my mind I thought it was too hard and time-consuming.

I decided to try using the crock-pot to cook down the tomatoes. This would allow a long cooking time without worrying about watching a pot all day or stirring to prevent burning. I did some research. Did I need to blanch first and remove the skins? Some recommended that’ but these tomatoes were pretty small, so that would be time-consuming and labor intensive. Some recommended leaving the skins in for extra fiber. Some recommended picking the skins out after the tomatoes have cooked down.  Because I had to go in town for most of the day, I decided on the simplest method possible.

1. Fill the crock pot 2/3rds full with tomatoes cut in half but skins remaining.

2. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of Italian seasoning. Italian seasoning is a spice mix consisting of Marjoram, Thyme, Rosemary, Savory Sage, Oregano and Basil. I could have added onions and garlic, but this was quick and I needed to get going.

Italian seasoning

3. Put the crock pot on low for 6 hours. If it still looks like there is too much liquid, the lid can be removed slightly for another 30 minutes and it will cook down.
4. I tried to remove a peeling once it was done, but, once again, takes too much time and effort.  I got out my immersion blender and waala! Perfect!

sauce

5. Instead of canning the results, I froze and wrote down the quantity and dated the bag.
Not only was this easy, it tasted great. It’s always nice to know what is going into your food. You can control the salt and the contents. I ended up with 7 1/2 cups of sauce. Well worth the effort.

frozen sauce

Full Plate Living

While I was working, which meant 8 hours or more a day at a computer, I packed on some extra pounds, about 25 of them. Stress eating, no exercise and a Southern culture of fried foods contributed greatly. Oh and that sugar and chocolate addiction. I went on to lose those 25 pounds by eliminating sugar and fast foods. Recently I noticed I had got lax in my eating and my sugar addiction was in full swing. The pounds were starting to creep up again. I knew I had to do something, but it would have to be a way of eating that would be a way of life and practical. I couldn’t always eliminate fried foods, sugar or chocolate and I don’t want to!  I’m not giving up fried green tomatoes!

I’d heard about the The Blue Zones, a book about the longest living people in the world. The Seventh Day Adventists members who practice a vegetarian lifestyle in Loma Linda, California were one of the groups studied in The Blue Zones. I ordered The Seventh Day Diet by Chris Rucker and Jan Hoffman from  thriftbook.com, my favorite frugal online book store. According to the research the male Adventists have 8.9 year longer than average life expectancy and females  7.5 years longer than average life expectancy. They also enjoy the following health benefits:

  • reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • lower incidence of breast, prostate, pancreatic, bladder and ovarian cancers than the general population.
  • 50% less likely to get colon or rectal cancer.
  • Meat eating male Adventists have 56 percent of the average coronary heart disease mortality, 39 percent for those who use no meat but drink milk and eggs and 12 percent for total vegetarians.

. The Seventh Day Diet  mentioned their Lifestyle Centers in different parts of the country, which led me to one in Ardmore, Oklahoma. The Ardmore Center at one time offered an in-house crash course, costing several thousands, for people who had a lot of weight to lose. They lost weight while at the center but when the leaders were following up with their clients, they discovered that they were gaining the weight back.  The total vegetarian diet was not working for them. This failure birthed The Full Plate Diet.  The Full Plate Diet book offers  very practical steps, tips and recipes for improving your diet and living a healthier lifestyle. Full Plate Diet became a best seller, followed by training kits for small groups to have their own training sessions without leaving their town and only costing $49 for the participant and $79 for the facilitator, who does not need any special training. I am not being paid to mention these products. Being the cheap skate that I am, I ordered an excellent copy of The Full Plate Diet from thriftbooks.com.

The philosophy behind the diet and backed by science is to gradually increase your daily fiber intake to 40 grams per day. This is a lot more than the average American gets due to our S.A.D. (Standard American Diet). Great tips are given  to easily power up your meals to get that extra fiber without your food tasting like card board or relying on Metamucil. Increasing your water intake to 6-8 glasses a day will help you to feel fuller and help the fiber digest.

Starving is not part of the diet, i.e. the full plate. Calorie counting is not necessary. The full plate consists of 75% foods that are naturally high in fiber such as beans, oatmeal, bananas and sweet potatoes. 25% of the plates are foods that you don’t want to give up such as bread, steak, milk and dessert.

Walking 30 minutes a day will help you lose weight faster and is a great way to relax.
I feel better already and my weight has stabilized although I’ve only been with the new lifestyle 2 weeks. I went to my granddaughter’s birthday determined I would have cake and ice cream but promptly became a good girl the next day. I did adjust my evening meal a little to make up for the extra calories. I no longer feel like I am constantly starving because I am eating  plenty of food that is nourishing me.  I can do this for the long haul.

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